LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- "Is that the one-horse guy?" a visitor asked as he walked past Tom McCarthy's rented stall on the backstretch at Churchill Downs.
Indeed, it was.
The 75-year-old owner-trainer signed a few autographs Friday under the watchful gaze of his big gray colt, General Quarters, who cost him all of $20,000.
McCarthy, a retired high school principal and biology teacher from Louisville who does everything but ride the horse himself, faces the biggest exam of his life in today's Kentucky Derby.
"How cool would it be if he won?" wondered Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who saddles early co-second choice Pioneerof the Nile in the 11/4-mile race.
That probably would be more than fine with scores of Derby fans still trying to get past last year's awful ending when filly Eight Belles finished second to Big Brown, then went down on two broken ankles and had to be destroyed.
McCarthy won't be one of the trainers hanging out in the box seats and accepting good wishes. Instead, he'll work in the barn until it's time to saddle General Quarters, who gave him his first and, so far, only victory in a Grade 1 race -- the Blue Grass Stakes.
"We're here to do a job, and he's the only one I really need to be with on Derby Day," said McCarthy, who watched from the rail at his first Derby in 1955 and has attended nearly every one since. "I've got more confidence in him than I have in myself."
McCarthy would be just fine, too, if forecasts calling for rain during the afternoon turn out to be right. General Quarters has never raced on an off-track, but his pedigree suggests he could run well in the slop.