William Bass, the guy who does the few small chores for General Quarters that trainer Tom McCarthy does not, said that early Saturday morning, he had informed the steel-gray colt that "this was the day."
The Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner nodded vigorously in return, as if he knew what Bass was talking about and what everyone expected.
All day, the General rested. And 75-year-old McCarthy and his two sons tended to the General and waited. Former students of the lifelong educator stopped by to chat. Visitors wanted autographs. But there were times when it was just McCarthy and the horse and a Jefferson County deputy sheriff.
At 4:30 p.m., after changing, at last, into his pinstriped suit, McCarthy said he'd waited 50 years for this.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
As he walked his horse to the Churchill Downs paddock, fans shouted his name. He waved in return, seemingly glad that the time was at hand.
After the race, when the General was covered in mud and led back to a nondescript stall and not to the winner's circle, McCarthy walked back alone.
He said, "I just wish he would have run a little better. I felt like I let a lot of people down."
But he didn't want anything to take away from the day. "It was one of the most special days," he said. "I was glad to be a part of it. We'll swallow and try again."
Then, he corrected himself. "Well, I don't know if we'll have another try."
Then he went to give his dirty horse a bath.