11/23/2001 12:00AM

Cat Cay saves McGaughey's Top Flight day

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JAMAICA, N.Y. - Things are going so well for trainer Shug McGaughey at the Aqueduct meet that even when his even-money favorite fails, he still comes out on top.

Cat Cay, the less-heralded part of McGaughey's uncoupled entry, rallied from last to nip front-running Tugger by a head in Friday's $150,000, Grade 2 Top Flight Handicap. Atelier, the even-money favorite also trained by McGaughey, finished another 1 1/2 lengths back in third.

It was the eighth winner from 21 starts at this meet for McGaughey - the leading trainer - who also has three seconds and three thirds.

It was the second consecutive graded stakes win for Cat Cay, a 4-year-old daughter of Pleasant Colony owned by Ogden Phipps who also won a Grade 3 stakes at Keeneland in her last start.

"I thought the whole year would be good, it wasn't," said McGaughey, whose filly went 3 for 8 this year. "But, she's a Group 2 and Group 3 winner."

As was the case last time out, Cat Cay raced last through the opening half-mile, about seven lengths behind Tugger, who had a clear advantage through fractions of 23.19 and 46.69 seconds. While the field fanned wide turning for home, jockey John Velazquez came up the inside turning for the stretch drive. Both Cat Cay and Tugger were drifting out in the stretch, but Cat Cay got up late. She covered the mile in 1:35.45 and returned $8.40 as the second choice.

"I was a little worried going down the backside - Tugger had an easy lead and when she can do that she can keep on going," McGaughey said. "I was afraid once Johnny got her in gear that she might hang a little bit inside."

Although it was a tough beat, trainer Todd Pletcher had no complaints with Tugger's race.

"I thought we got a good trip," Pletcher said. "The rail was dead all day and Cat Cay came up the inside and got us. A mile is kind of stretching [Tugger's] limits."

Jockey Edgar Prado said Atelier "was a little flat" and McGaughey added that she is probably better around two turns. McGaughey said Atelier would winter at Gulfstream and point to the Rampart at Gulfstream on March 2. Plans for Cat Cay were undetermined.