01/01/2005 12:00AM

McGaughey set for successful year

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Over the last 20 years, few trainers in North American racing have set loftier standards than Shug McGaughey. Success at a very high level is not just expected, but demanded - from himself, his clients, his fans, and pretty much anybody who knows a little something about Thoroughbred racing.

That is why McGaughey was able to take a look back at 2004 and a look forward at 2005 and say with all honesty that he is one satisfied horse trainer.

"It was a real good year for us," said McGaughey, whose year was highlighted by his induction into the Racing Hall of Fame in August. "Hopefully, things will be even better in 2005."

Storm Flag Flying was retired after the Breeders' Cup, but she is about the only top McGaughey runner from 2004 who won't be back in 2005. With some 40 active runners split between Gulfstream and Payson Park, McGaughey already is plotting another outstanding season. Daydreaming, Good Reward, and Defer emerged to win major races last year, and McGaughey has big plans for all of them.

"I'd love to make the [Kentucky] Derby with Defer or Survivalist," he said.

Both are expected to race within several weeks. Defer, winner of the Laurel Futurity, is pointing to the Feb. 5 Hutcheson Stakes, and Survivalist is headed for an entry-level allowance. McGaughey also has two Kentucky Oaks hopefuls in Smuggler and Salute.

As for Good Reward, winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby on grass in his last start, McGaughey said, "I'm thinking of the [Feb. 5] Strub for him. When I worked for the Whiteleys, it seemed like grass horses really ran well over that main track at Santa Anita, for whatever reason. I'm going to have to decide on that real soon, but I think we're leaning that way. It'd be nice to get something done with him on dirt because of what that would do for him as a stallion prospect."

Daydreaming, who has won graded stakes in her last two starts, will make her 4-year-old bow in the Feb. 26 Sabin at Gulfstream, followed by the Rampart at Gulfstream or Apple Blossom at Oaklawn.

McGaughey said he also has been pleased with the progress shown in recent months by Philanthropist, Strategy, and La Reina, among others.

With stable earnings of nearly $4.2 million in 2004, McGaughey had his most productive year since 1998, when his horses earned a shade over $5 million. It has been a long time since he has had a superstar on a par with a Personal Ensign or Easy Goer, as he did in the late 1980's, but considering the rich pedigrees of the young horses he trains for the Phipps family, it will not be a surprise when the next one comes around.

It is in that spirit of optimism that McGaughey continues to sail along. A racetracker since his late teens, he knows no other lifestyle than sleeping, eating, and talking racehorses, and his otherwise droll Kentucky accent seems to perk up a notch when discussing a top horse or the fortuitous paths his life and career have followed.

Most notable is his Hall of Fame induction, for which he is extremely grateful and humbled. "Bill Mott told me after I got in that the whole thing gets better every day, even more than you think," McGaughey said. "Boy, was he right. The whole procedure was just a big thrill. It's something that always stays with you and makes you realize what a tremendous honor it is."

Yet McGaughey, who turns 54 Thursday, has never been one to rest on his laurels. The second half of 2004 was easily the better half for his stable, thanks to stakes wins by Storm Flag Flying, Daydreaming, Good Reward, and Defer. Indeed, after a somewhat ordinary start, it became a sneaky good year for McGaughey, almost as if the stable had been energized by the Hall of Fame induction.

"We had some horses come around real well, and I was really proud of the way Storm Flag Flying did after her disastrous 3-year-old year," he said.

Storm Flag Flying, a champion in 2002 at 2, rebounded to win the Grade 1 Personal Ensign and finish second in the Breeders' Cup Distaff following a limited 3-year-old campaign. She surely will be one of the three finalists in the filly-mare category for a 2004 Eclipse Award.

As much as McGaughey enjoys looking back at Storm Flag Flying's accomplishments, he is excited about looking forward to 2005.

"We've got some nice horses down here," he said. "As good as this last year was, I'd like to think the next one has some nice things in store for us, too."