McCarthy Propels WLKY-TV to Eclipse Award

Owner-trainer Tom McCarthy brought last spring’s Grade I Blue Grass Stakes winner General Quarters to New Orleans this winter to run in Fair Grounds’ trio of stakes for older horses. He has already nominated his colt to the 63rd renewal of the $75,000 Louisiana Handicap, first leg of that series Jan. 23, and other horsemen are reminded that nominations to the 2010 Louisiana Handicap close this Saturday.

What the 76-year-old McCarthy didn’t know on Sunday morning during training hours at Fair Grounds was that Louisville, Kentucky, television station WLKY-TV had been announced as last season’s Eclipse Award winner for local television one day earlier for their feature on Tom McCarthy preparing his one-horse stable for a run in last spring’s Kentucky Derby.

“That’s great to hear,” said McCarthy when advised of the announcement. “That’s a very nice honor for them.”

WLKY’s feature on McCarthy and General Quarters was co-produced by John Boel and Scott Eckhardt, and is the second such Eclipse award for the station also honored three years ago.

“Given all the excitement and terrific stories to come out of horse racing this year, we are ecstatic and extremely honored to win the Eclipse Award again,” Eckhardt said. “Tom McCarthy was a great story of a local taking his best shot at winning the Derby. We loved telling it to everyone.”

The WLKY production team followed McCarthy at Keeneland and Churchill, interviewing him prior to the Blue Grass, and also filmed McCarthy’s jubilation while watching General Quarters’ victory in the Blue Grass.

Assuming General Quarters runs well in the Louisiana Handicap, McCarthy has circled Fair Grounds’ Grade III Mineshaft Handicap on Louisiana Derby Preview Day Feb. 20 and the Grade II New Orleans Handicap on Louisiana Derby Day Mar. 27 as possible future starts this winter at the Crescent City oval.

Desert Wheat Breezes for Upcoming Dixie Poker Ace Stakes Saturday
Wachtel Stables, Brous Stables and Jerry D. Lee’s Desert Wheat, two-time winner of Fair Grounds’ $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf, breezed a half-mile in 50.20 Jan. 2 in preparation for his upcoming engagement in Saturday’s $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace Stakes.

“He went very well,” said Mike Kaetzel, Fair Grounds-based assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.  “We’re looking forward to running him back in the Dixie Poker Ace.”

Fair Grounds Begins Taking Louisiana Derby Day Reservations Monday
Faithful fans of Fair Grounds and Louisiana Derby Day are advised that the New Orleans oval will begin taking reservations for the upcoming 2010 Grade II Louisiana Derby on Monday.

“Horsemen as well as our faithful fans can make their reservations beginning Monday on a first-come, first-served basis,” said Sandra Salmen, horsemen’s relations director at Fair Grounds. “We will use the same reservations system we used this season for the Thanksgiving Day program. We will accept requests by the row rather than by the table and the price will include admission, free racing program, the cost of the buffet, as well as tax and gratuity. Soft drinks, coffee and tea are complimentary.”

Top Two Finishers in Saturday’s $60,000 Furl Sail Handicap Share Other Connections
James Perron Racing Stable’s Category Seven and Team Block’s Never Retreat, adjudged first and second respectively in Saturday’s Furl Sail Handicap, finished under the wire the other way around before being reversed through a disqualification.

However, the Furl Sail’s top two also share another connection. Both were sold to their present ownership by noted Irish-born bloodstock agent Joseph Brocklebank, father of Fair Grounds placing judge Natalie Brocklebank.

In a related development, Irish-born jockey James Graham, who rode Never Retreat, will begin serving a seven-calendar-day suspension this Saturday for his ride aboard that Team Block color bearer.

Graham entered Sunday’s race day as leading rider at Fair Grounds, with 31 wins at the meeting, five in front of second leading rider Corey Lanerie and six more than that day’s third-place jockey Shane Sellers. Graham, who finished a very close second in last summer’s Arlington Park standings, was less than 50 wins away from the 1,000 career-win milestone entering Sunday’s program.

Mountain Justice to Remain on Turf for Next Start
Mountain Justice, an impressive eight-length maiden special weight winner on turf in November before a second-place finish in a Dec. 28 turf allowance, will remain on the grass for his next start, trainer Andrew McKeever said by phone from Kentucky on Sunday. The 3-year-old by Afleet Alex first raced on Keeneland’s synthetic surface and is among the Early Bird nominees to the Grade II, $750,000 Louisiana Derby on March 27.

“We’re hoping to run him back on the grass one more time and then maybe try the dirt,” McKeever said. “I’ll work him on the dirt with a good work horse and see how he does. We tried once before on the dirt with a workmate and he came back very tired and his blood work was all out of whack.”

Nonetheless, a main-track try later in the meet remains a possibility.

“We’re hoping,” McKeever said. “You never know until you try.”

Fair Grounds Initiates New ‘Barn of the Month’ Program

Red-hot trainer Steve Margolis, who switched his winter headquarters from Gulfstream Park to Fair Grounds two years ago, had his local stable selected for Fair Grounds’ first “Barn of the Month” award in ceremonies held Saturday.

“It’s a great honor for me and all my help to be selected for this honor the first time it was awarded,” said Margolis in the winner’s circle after posing under a banner given to him and his crew.

Winners of “Barn of the Month” are treated to their owns party in the track kitchen with tables reserved in their honor, a t-shirt with “Barn of the Month” recognition inscribed on it that they can wear with pride at Fair Grounds as well as other race tracks, and complimentary photos of their winner’s circle picture to all involved.