04/22/2002 12:00AM

Shug: Phipps a great boss

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ELMONT, N.Y. - The raindrops falling from the gray April sky Monday morning provided a most appropriate setting outside Belmont Park's Barn 20, where trainer Shug McGaughey and his staff mourned the death of owner Ogden Phipps. Phipps died early Monday morning after a short illness at age 93.

McGaughey was hired to be the private trainer for the Phipps stable on Nov. 11, 1985. Since then, McGaughey has trained five champions for the family, including the undefeated filly Personal Ensign and Easy Goer, Ogden Phipps's 1989 Belmont Stakes winner who was 2-year-old champion of 1988.

"He took on a young guy like me and not only provided me a great life, but provided me a great time,'' said McGaughey, who was 34 when he took the job. "Never any questions, never any doubting you telling you to change jocks or this or that. It was always your ballgame. When something bad happened, that was the end of the story. When something good happened he was the first to compliment you.''

McGaughey said Phipps was most proud of Easy Goer's 1989 Belmont Stakes. After finishing second to Sunday Silence in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, Easy Goer romped to an eight-length victory in the Belmont, giving Phipps his only classic winner.

Phipps was a frequent visitor to McGaughey's Belmont barn, watching his horses walk the shed row from a black and cherry red director's chair outside of McGaughey's office.

"He had a great passion for the game, he loved coming to Belmont and Saratoga and watching the horses run,'' McGaughey said. "He looked forward to it, especially in his later years.''

It was revealed on Monday that Phipps had a 5 percent ownership interest in Saarland, the Kentucky Derby hopeful owned primarily by Phipps's daughter, Cynthia. Ogden Mills Phipps, Cynthia's brother, also owns 5 percent.

Ogden Mills Phipps said his father would have gotten "a big kick'' from having a horse in the Derby.

"He talked about that with his daughter as late as last Wednesday,'' Ogden Mills Phipps said Monday. "``He wished her well in the Derby.''

Though the head of one of racing's most influential families is now gone, the Phippses figure to be a mainstay in racing for years to come, something Ogden Mills Phipps credits, in large part, to McGaughey.

"``Shug has won an awful lot of races for us, but I'm not sure that's what he really has done the best for us,'' Ogden Mills Phipps said. "What Shug has really done for us is gotten my children involved. He spends a lot of time with them, and they have a lot of interest and that means we're going to be in racing a long time.''