09/29/2013 10:15PM

McGaughey thanks owners, calls for medication rules reform at TCA dinner

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Shug McGaughey got his first Kentucky Derby win with Orb in May.

Hall of Fame trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey III was the Honored Guest at the Thoroughbred Club of America’s Testimonial Dinner on Sunday night at Keeneland Race Course.

McGaughey, 62, has saddled nine Eclipse Award winners: Easy Goer, Heavenly Prize, Inside Information, Personal Ensign, Queena, Rhythm, Smuggler, Storm Flag Flying and Vanlandingham, and he earned an Eclipse Award in his own right as outstanding trainer in 1988.

Additionally, McGaughey has trained four Hall of Fame horses: Inside Information, Easy Goer, Personal Ensign and Lure, and was inducted himself in 2004.

Through Sept. 29, McGaughey has compiled 1,778 training victories, including 307 graded stakes wins, for earnings of $120,819,250. He became the 11th trainer to be named an Honored Guest by the TCA, joining the company of horsemen including D. Wayne Lukas, Charles Whittingham, and James E. “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons.

McGaughey was introduced during Sunday’s ceremony by Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, one of the trainer’s most prominent clients, who recalled their success together with runners including Personal Ensign, Easy Goer, and Kentucky Derby winner Orb.

“In short, he’s the kind of trainer and the kind of person and the kind of friend anyone would be proud to be associated with,” Phipps said before introducing McGaughey to a standing ovation.

McGaughey, a Lexington, Ky. native, expressed gratitude to his family and those who helped him get his start in the business, then thanked the owners with which he has had his greatest success. In particular, he recognized the Phipps family and Stuart Janney III, the co-owners of Orb, McGaughey’s first Kentucky Derby winner.

“In short, the affiliation with the Phipps family, with their familiar black and red silks, and the Janney family with their white and red silks has been one of the highlights of my life and I know I wouldn’t be here tonight without them,” McGaughey said. “Hopefully I have repaid them in some small way.”

In his speech, McGaughey described the surreal atmosphere of the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle and said that he heard from people from every stage of his life, almost to an overwhelming degree. He read letters from notable industry members congratulating him on his landmark victory, and emphasized the importance of the backstretch and its workers.

That point was driven home by another powerful letter written to Sean Clancy and shared by McGaughey, from a Vietnam veteran who visited Orb on the Saratoga backstretch during Travers Stakes weekend as part of the Wounded Warrior Project program. The therapeutic effect the visit had on the man and his wife was profound, and epitomized in McGaughey’s eyes the love of horses found on farms and backstretches throughout the racing industry.

The trainer got a laugh out of the crowd when he described one of the fringe benefits of winning the Kentucky Derby.

“You often hear of trainers and jockeys meeting strangers at airports, restaurants or other public places,” McGaughey said. “When they mention what they do for a living the first question is always, ‘Have you ever won the Kentucky Derby? I must have answered that question hundreds if not thousands of times before May 4th, and the answer was always the same: No. Believe it or not, not one person has asked me that question since Orb won. But I’m sure someone will, and I’ll be glad to tell them all about it.”

McGaughey also addressed the need for the racing industry to make greater strides in creating and enforcing uniform medication policies, developing labs that have an equal level of drug testing capabilities, and increasing surveillance on big race days.

“It’s a real disservice to owners, trainers, jockeys, and even more importantly our fans if we are not presenting fair competition,” he said. “We need to find and eliminate illegal drugs. Penalties should be stiffer for chronic positives. Fans and prospective fans need to know that our horses are being treated properly. It seems like we’re making some progress, and I sincerely hope that it continues for the sake of all of us in this game.”

In closing, McGaughey reflected on his beginnings, calling the TCA’s honor a “full circle” moment – from his beginnings in the early 1970s as a hot walker at Keeneland to returning to the very same property to celebrate his career decades later.

“When I was a kid growing up on 1438 Lakewood Drive, here in Lexington, I might have dreamed of someday working for the Phipps family, but I can assure you that I never dreamed of receiving an honor such as this,” he said. “It means the world to me and I will be forever grateful.”

However, the trainer made clear that lifetime achievement does not equal retirement. In fact, he served notice that he doesn’t plan on leaving racing’s upper echelon anytime soon.

“One thing I want everyone to know, we’re not done yet,” he said. “There’s going to be many more great Saturday afternoons and hopefully we’ll get the opportunity to win the Kentucky Derby again, so we can start that adventure once more.”