Updated on 09/16/2011 8:16AM

Shug isn't feeling any pressure


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It's hard to believe it has been 13 years since Shug McGaughey has had a runner in the Kentucky Derby.

As the private trainer for the Phipps family over that period, McGaughey gets to work with some of the best pedigrees in the game. But, through lack of colts, injury, or just misfortune, McGaughey has not been represented in the world's most famous horse race since Easy Goer and Awe Inspiring finished second and third behind Sunday Silence in 1989.

"I'm disappointed we haven't been here since 1989; I'm excited we're here now,' said McGaughey, who will saddle Saarland, owned by Cynthia Phipps, in Saturday's 128th Kentucky Derby.

It's not as though McGaughey has not had a 3-year-old worthy of bringing to Louisville since 1989. Rhythm, the champion 2-year-old of 1989, did not winter well in 1990, and did not get good until the summer when he won the Travers.

In 1996, Roar won the Jim Beam (now Spiral) Stakes, but after a third-place finish in the Lexington, the decision was made to skip the Derby. The following year, McGaughey saddled Accelerator to a second-place finish to Captain Bodgit in the Wood Memorial, and brought the horse to Louisville only to have him get hurt while training for the race.

Easily the most talented 3-year-old McGaughey has had since Easy Goer was Coronado's Quest, who won the Remsen at 2 and the Wood Memorial at 3. Coronado's Quest was an ornery colt, however, with a flare for bucking and unseating his rider. McGaughey felt it wouldn't be prudent to bring Coronado's Quest to Churchill Downs, where he might have acted up in front of a big crowd.

"I didn't want to put him through it, I didn't want to put me through it, and I didn't want to compromise anybody else's chances in case he did act up,' McGaughey said.

In 1989, McGaughey was 38 years old. Five years earlier, he saddled Pine Circle and Vanlandingham in the Derby and in 1988 he sent out Seeking the Gold. None of the three performed well.

A lot more was expected of Easy Goer entering the 1989 Derby. He won the Cowdin and Champagne as a 2-year-old; the Swale, Gotham, and Wood at 3. "In 1989, there was just a tremendous amount of pressure,' said McGaughey, whose entry of Easy Goer and Awe Inspiring went off as the 4-5 favorite.

The temperatures were frigid, the track was muddy, and McGaughey knew early on it was not going to be Easy Goer's day.

"The biggest part I remember is going down the backside saying we're a little farther back than we wanted to be and Pat [Day] felt the same way,' McGaughey said. "He said he wasn't getting me where I wanted to be when I wanted to be there.'

McGaughey felt that had Craig Perret aboard Awe Inspiring not left Easy Goer an opening on the rail in the stretch, Awe Inspiring would have been second and Easy Goer third.

Sunday Silence and Easy Goer staged a fierce rivalry throughout the Triple Crown and beyond, with Sunday Silence edging Easy Goer in the Preakness and Easy Goer trouncing Sunday Silence in the Belmont.

The pressure McGaughey felt in 1989 won't be present this year. In Saarland, McGaughey trains a colt whose breeding screams 10 furlongs, but whose accomplishments are modest. Though he did win the Remsen Stakes, he is only 2 for 7 lifetime, and 0 for 2 this year, including a fourth-place finish in the Wood Memorial.

Saarland was found to have displaced his soft palate in the Wood and underwent a minor surgical procedure, a myectomy, to fix a breathing problem. The colt has appeared more relaxed and has trained well since having the operation done on April 17.

Saarland, who does his best running from off the pace, figures to benefit from a contested pace. McGaughey believes there are other factors that could benefit Saarland as well.

"I think he's got the attitude for it. He's always been a very reserved kind of horse,' McGaughey said. "I think he's got the pedigree to run that far,' McGaughey added, noting that Saarland is by Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled out of the dam, Versailles Treaty, who won the 10-furlong Alabama. "I think he's go that working for him. His running style could be conducive to what it takes.'

Win or lose on Saturday, McGaughey hopes it doesn't take another 13 years to get back to Churchill for the first Saturday in May.