As stocks go, both would be buys. Blue chips from the Blue Grass State. Gigantic gainers maintaining momentum. General Quarters and Musket Man are bulls in a bear market, winning Tampa Bay Downs' top races and punching tickets to Saturday's 135th Kentucky Derby. Each colt is valued at more than $1 million, a 5,614 percent increase over their combined purchase of $35,000.
The Tampa Two are in demand.
"You never know where a good horse is going to come from. That's part of racing," General Quarters owner-trainer Thomas McCarthy, 75, said. "Every horseman hopes for it (to be in the Kentucky Derby)."
Today, McCarthy and Musket Man trainer Derek Ryan will be at their first Kentucky Derby post-position draw in Louisville, where the season's initial classic for 3-year-olds is set for Churchill Downs. McCarthy has attended nearly every Kentucky Derby since 1955, 11 years before Ryan, 42, was born. Grade III Tampa Bay Derby winner Musket Man or Grade III Sam F. Davis winner General Quarters can become the first Oldsmar-based colt to win the 1 1/4-mile Run for the Roses, and second Downs' graduate, joining Street Sense in 2007.
McCarthy, a Norwich, Conn., native and retired Louisville high school educator, is the media darling with General Quarters, his one-horse stable with earnings of $641,735. He won the Grade I Blue Grass on April 11 at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., and Sam F. Davis on Feb. 14. Mark Miller was the listed trainer in the Sam F. Davis with McCarthy being treated for facial cancer. It was McCarthy's first stakes win in his 50-year career. He claimed the Sky Mesa colt 11 months ago for $20,000 in a maiden debut at Churchill Downs. Eibar Coa will ride General Quarters, who is out of the Unbridled's Song mare Ecology.
"It's a good story. But I'm here to spoil it," said Ryan, a Tipperary, Ireland, native who moved to the United States 20 years ago.
Musket Man, purchased for $15,000 by Vic Carlson in the Keeneland 2007 yearling sale, has won five of six races at four tracks with earnings of $572,600. The son of Yonaguska has captured three stakes: Grade II Illinois Derby at Hawthorne on April 4, Tampa Bay Derby on March 14 and Pasco on Jan. 17. His only loss was a third in the Sam F. Davis.
Musket Man, a May foal and one of the youngest Kentucky Derby starters, is owned by Carlson and Eric Fein, whose Tampa Bay Derby winner Big Truck finished 18th in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Julien Leparoux will ride Musket Man, the sixth straight Tampa Bay Derby winner to start the Kentucky Derby. Ryan is unbeaten in three derbys, beginning with 55-1 shot Emergency Status' victory in the 2002 Grade III Jersey Derby at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J.
Seven-figure offers have been made on the two standouts, but neither accepted. Both of their sires won the 7-furlong Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. (Sky Mesa in 2002 and Yonaguska a dead heat in 2000). Sky Mesa also won the 1 1/16-mile Grade II Lane's End Futurity at Keeneland in 2002. Musket Man, out of the Fortunate Prospect mare Fortuesque, is the top earner sired by Yonaguska, who won five stakes, none longer than 7 furlongs. "I don't think there's a better horse bred in the race (than General Quarters)," McCarthy said. "And he's got a distance pedigree."