Kept close to the early leaders by jockey Eibar Coa throughout the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds, the son of Sky Mesa took command in midstretch and defeated Hold Me Back, the 2-1 favorite, by 1 ½ lengths. Massone finished another 1 ¼ lengths back in third.
McCarthy, who has raced horses on a small scale for many years, claimed General Quarters for $20,000 on May 30 last year at Churchill Downs in the colt’s first career start. Saturday’s win increased General Quarters’ career earnings to $641,735.
General Quarters first signaled his promise with a 3 ½-length victory in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) in February at Tampa Bay Downs. He soon was forgotten when he finished fifth in his next start, the Tampa Bay Derby (G3).
Returned to his home base in Louisville, McCarthy readied him for the Toyota Blue Grass. “He trained like a champion all week, and after that breeze last week (:58.20 for five furlongs) I knew I had him right where I wanted him,” said McCarthy. “I think he exhibited the tenacity to go on to the (Kentucky) Derby.
It was the first time the Coa had ridden General Quarters. “I saw his race, the prep for the (Grade 3) Tampa Bay Derby (the Sam F. Davis), and I loved the way he ran,” said Coa. “I also saw the Tampa Bay Derby, where he got in a lot of traffic.
“Mr. McCarthy told me just to run his race (and said), ‘Without traffic, I know he is going to show up today.’”
General Quarters paid $30.60.
Terrain finished fourth followed, in order, by Join in the Dance, Loch Dubh, Charitable Man, Mafaaz (GB), Theregoesjojo, Patena and Cliffy’s Future.
The Toyota Blue Grass was the fourth of four graded races, run under sunny skies before 27,788 people.
Last year’s champion turf female, Forever Together, returned to competition in stylish fashion by winning the $200,000, Grade 2 Jenny Wiley Stakes, one of Saturday’s supporting features.
Making her first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G1) in October, the 5-year-old daughter of Belong to Me and jockey Julien Leparoux unleashed a furious rally on the turn to win by a length.
The time for the 1 1/16 miles on the “good” turf was 1:46.93.
Rutherienne finished second in the field of seven fillies and mares, a neck in front of Kiss With a Twist. It was another three-quarters of a length back to fourth-place Rustic Flame (IRE).
Forever Together won her third race in a row and her eighth race in 15 career starts. She increased her career earnings to $2,128,533 with the winner’s purse of $124,000. She is owned by George Strawbridge Jr.’s Augustin Stable and trained by Jonathan Sheppard.
The winner paid $4 as the even-money favorite.
Eternal Star forged to the lead in midstretch under Coa and posted a three-quarter length victory in the $250,000 Grade 2 Commonwealth Stakes at seven furlongs on Polytrack.
Kept within striking distance early, the 5-year-old son of Five Star Day passed pacesetters My Pal Charlie and Ravalo and then held off Rebellion (GB) for his 10th win in 21 career starts.
Three-quarters of a length separated Eternal Star and second-place Rebellion at the finish of the race, timed in 1:21.17. It was a half-length back to third-place My Pal Charlie in the field of eight 4-year-olds and upward.
Eternal Star, owned by Harry C. and Tom Meyerhoff and trained by Michael Trombetta, earned $108,500.
“As I told the rider, this was his first time riding him and this is the first (for Eternal Star to race on) synthetic. This horse is very versatile,” said Trombetta, who recorded his first Keeneland stakes win. “He’ll run on the lead; he’ll run from next to last. He does his thing.”
The winner paid $13.20.
Heros Reward, making his first start in more than five months, stuck his head in front a few strides from the finish to win the $100,000, Grade 3 Shakertown Stakes in a three-horse photo.
The 7-year-old son of Partner’s Hero closed on the outside under Javier Castellano to edge Cannonball by a head. It was a head back to third-place Chamberlain Bridge in the field of 11 4-year-olds and upward.
Mr. Nightlinger, seeking a second consecutive victory in the 5 ½-furlong turf sprint, finished fifth.
Heros Reward is owned by Rob Ry Farm and Jayne M. Slysz and is trained by Dale Capuano, who was winning his first stakes race at Keeneland. The winner paid $12.60 and increased his career earnings to $973,216.
“I spoke to Mr. Capuano,” said Castellano. “He told me to watch the speed in the race today and a lot of speed on the rail. I waited until we were turning for home, and he responded very well.”
The time was 1:04.24 on the “yielding” turf course.