07/28/2001 11:00PM

Serra Lake best in Go For Wand


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Shug McGaughey knew his summer slump wouldn't last forever. He can only hope his current hot streak has some more life to it.

After going 1-for-40 at Belmont, McGaughey has completely turned things around at Saratoga, winning five races in the first five days of the meet.

He completed the comeback Sunday by saddling Serra Lake to a 1 3/4-length victory in the $250,000, Grade 1 Go for Wand Handicap before an announced crowd of 58,835 on Cap Day at Saratoga.

McGaughey, who also won the previous race with Saint Verre, now has five wins from 10 starts here. He is atop the trainer standings, one ahead of Richard Dutrow Jr.

"I was kind of down this summer, but I felt like somewhere along the line we'd bounce back and we have," said McGaughey, who won the 1994 Saratoga title with 15 winners.

For a six-week period, Serra Lake was the only winner McGaughey had saddled. She won the Pimlico Distaff on May 19, Preakness Day. McGaughey's next winner came on July 1. McGaughey went as far as having samples of soil, water and feed from his barn tested, but nothing was found amiss.

McGaughey decided to back off his horses and point towards Saratoga. He thought about running Serra Lake in the Delaware Handicap on July 22, but preferred to run here where she won a preliminary allowance race last summer.

Serra Lake was in light at 113 pounds and figured to benefit from a fast pace assured by the presence of Beautiful Pleasure.

Serra Lake, under Edgar Prado, had just one horse beat down the backside as Beautiful Pleasure opened up a double-digit length lead through splits of 23.67 seconds, 46.86 and 1:10.74. Pompeii and March Magic were racing in tandem and caught Beautiful Pleasure by the quarter pole.

Prado swung Serra Lake off the inside and set her down for the stretch drive. She collared Pompeii inside the sixteenth pole and drew off. She covered the nine furlongs in 1:49.62 and returned $18.40 to win.

Pompeii was second, 1 3/4 lengths ahead of March Magic.

While McGaughey has made a terrific comeback, Beautiful Pleasure, the 1999 champion mare, has not. Sent off the 6-5 favorite along with entrymate Darling My Darling, Beautiful Pleasure finished fifth, 7 1/4 lengths back.

Although she looked fitter than when she finished last in the Hempstead, Beautiful Pleasure was washed out and was fighting jockey Jorge Chavez.

Chavez said when he asked her to run, "she gave up."

Still, trainer John Ward seemed encouraged by the effort.

"Her mind was too lackadaisical the first race and she went the other way too much this race; she'll settle back into it," Ward said. "I'm happy."

Critical Eye, the Hempstead winner, was never in the race and finished sixth.

Secret Status was scratched after she charged the gate and opened a cut above her right eye.