08/06/2004 11:00PM

Shug's time has officially arrived

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - When it was announced in May that trainer Shug McGaughey was elected for induction into Thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame, a few eyebrows were raised. It's not that McGaughey is undeserving of the accolade, it was just that many thought he had already received it.

But there are rules for Hall of Fame induction. And despite crafting one of the most successful training careers this sport has known, McGaughey had to wait until he was recognized as having trained Thoroughbreds for 25 years.

There aren't many trainers in the last quarter century who have accomplished more than McGaughey, who was actually credited with winning the 1978 Apple Blossom for trainer Frank Whiteley before going out on his own in 1979. A native of Lexington, Ky., McGaughey has won 324 stakes with 128 horses, has trained eight champions - including the undefeated Personal Ensign - and won eight Breeders' Cup races, second only to D. Wayne Lukas.

McGaughey, 53, has spent the last 19 years as the private trainer for the Phipps family. Ogden Mills Phipps said he and his father were looking for a trainer who had a good record with fillies when they sought to replace Angel Penna Sr. in the fall of 1985. Four of the six champions McGaughey has trained for the Phippses were fillies.

"His ability to train fillies is important to our operation, because we're not big buyers. We have to produce our own to go back to the broodmare band," Phipps said. "It doesn't matter if it was Personal Ensign or Dispute or Inside Information. He has that ability to train those horses and keep them happy over a period of time, and I think that's important."

McGaughey has won 163 stakes for the Phippses with 54 different horses. Six of McGaughey's eight Breeders' Cup victories have come for the Phippses. Overall, McGaughey has won almost 1,400 races and his horses have earned purses totaling almost $84 million.

McGaughey has had many memorable days in racing, but one that stands out is Oct. 16, 1993, at Belmont Park. McGaughey won six races, including five graded stakes: the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Miner's Mark), Kelso Handicap (Lure), Frizette (Heavenly Prize), Beldame (Dispute), and Lawrence Realization (Strolling Along). Regal Solution won an allowance race.

"If you had asked me that day, 'Are you going to win six today?' I would have said no," McGaughey said. "If you had had asked me if Lure was going to win today, I would have said yes. Do you think Strolling Along is going to win today? I would have said good chance. Do you think Heavenly Prize is going to win today? Yes. Do you think Dispute is going to win today? Yes. Do you think Miner's Mark is going to win today? Questionable. They were all doing really good and I couldn't really discount any of them."

McGaughey has enjoyed great success at Saratoga, where he has won at least one stakes race in 15 of the last 21 meetings before this year. Overall, he's won 32 stakes here, including five Ballerinas and six Go for Wands. He is one of just four trainers to have won the Travers in back-to-back years.

"Heavenly Prize's Alabama was pretty exciting," McGaughey said. "Lakeway was in there and she beat Inside Information in the Mother Goose. We ran by her at the three-eighths pole like she was standing still. Easy Goer's accomplishments up here were great. My first [Saratoga] stakes win, Lass Trump won the Test; that was a hell of a thrill."

In 1989, Easy Goer won the Whitney and the Travers, one of just four 3-year-olds to accomplish that feat. McGaughey only ran Easy Goer in the Whitney when Seeking the Gold came up with an ankle injury.

"I had never won the Travers, but I was pretty confident going into it that we were running the best horse," McGaughey said.

Despite the death two years ago of Ogden Phipps, the family's commitment to racing remains strong. Ogden Mills Phipps said he has cut back on the number of broodmares, from 60 to about 35, and that number will likely remain under 40. But Phipps's children have a great interest in continuing the stable, in large part because of the association with McGaughey.

"He has been extraordinary in getting my kids involved," Phipps said. "They call him, they all talk to him, they're all interested in it. They own a small piece of the stable, that's how we'd like it to go. Over time they'll get a bigger piece of the stable."

Despite all his success, McGaughey said he still covets more. In particular, he wants a Kentucky Derby, a race in which he is 0 for 6.

"I'm disappointed I haven't been more competitive in the Triple Crown races," McGaughey said. "But, I don't want to take a 20-1 shot over there either."

Two summers ago, McGaughey had to undergo heart bypass surgery, but his health is good now and he plans on training for a long time.

"I'm not going anywhere," McGaughey said.

On Monday he's going to the Hall of Fame.