Duggan keeps big meet going

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David Duggan nodded and smiled and did everything but kiss babies after winning the Mollie Wilmot Wednesday. The Irishman might as well have been Macho Again in the Travers, stopping, starting and turning with every step. Toss in Joe Biden at the Democratic convention (and a leprechaun for good measure) and you have Duggan. That’s what happens when you win six races – and you only brought eight horses – at Saratoga.

Small barn gone big.

Duggan joined fellow Saratoga newcomers Chad Brown and Mike Maker with a half-dozen wins each.

Duggan’s prowess is out of the bag.

“I usually hide out in the corner, now people are recognizing me,” Duggan said. “It’s a great feeling. It’s Saratoga. No complaints.”

No kidding.

Duggan won two stakes during the meet, upsetting the Victory Ride with Porte Bonheur and really upsetting the Mollie Wilmot with Cagey Girl, who went off the longest shot on the board in the New York-bred filly and mare stakes. After the race, valets, gate crew, exercise riders, fans . . . all walks of racetrack people applauded Duggan.

Owner Alan Quartucci and jockey Mike Luzzi have seen Duggan-mania first hand.

“It’s his coming-out party,” said Quartucci, who owns Cagey Girl. “David’s on a roll, he’s got this filly real good right now and he deserves it.”

“David was a secret,” Luzzi said. “He’s a real good horse trainer, nice guy, having a lot of fun, it’s fun to watch him. They say he’s amazing to watch during the race because he rides as hard as you do. They say he’s snapping his fingers and riding every step with you.”

In that case, he’s Eddie Arcaro and Laz Barrera wrapped into one, because it’s working.

Duggan and his wife, Lara, galloped horses and assisted with top-shelf outfits Godolphin, John Kimmel, Neil Drysdale, among others. Eventually, they designed their own emblem and began a public stable. Duggan admits that public would be a liberal term.  

“We’ve been training about five years, but the first three were a shambles,” Duggan said. “We had no connections. We were with Godolphin but we had no connections.”

Duggan trained his first winner, Malaysia, in a maiden race at Delaware Park in September 2005. His first winner on the New York circuit came when Heavenly Psalm won in January 2006.

Duggan had a connection with Quartucci and adopted Cagey Girl when Lisa Lewis traveled and Duggan stayed put. Cagey Girl is blind in her left eye and quickly backed up her reputation.

“I knew Alan when I was with Kimmel, ‘Crazy filly, give it to Duggan, he’s in New York.’ My grooms still have bruises from her and it was all I could do to ride her, but believe me, I was happy to have her,” Duggan said. “That’s how it’s developed, eventually people know you have runners, you did OK, take a chance. I prefer it that way, you can gradually edge in, this is beyond what normally happens, and I know that.”

Duggan bedded down eight horses in the old Sanford barn at Saratoga. Lara trains the rest of the string – 12 horses – at Belmont. Duggan trains Cagey Girl on Clare Court most days and that’s helped.

He gets on all his horses enough to get to know them and likes it that way too. He’s not Todd Pletcher, Rick Dutrow, Steve Asmussen, nor does he pretend to be.

“I never want to be Todd, I never want to be Dutrow, I never want to be any of these guys,” Duggan said. “If you have 10 good owners, two or three good horses, that’s more fun to me. I don’t want to spread myself too thin, if the good horse is meant to come, it’s meant to come, that’s my mentality. If we got too big, I wouldn’t enjoy it.”

Duggan’s enjoying his breakout Saratoga meet while keeping an eye securely on where it goes when the horse vans start heading south on the Thruway.

“It puts you on the map, proves you can do something. Is it going to happen every year, no, I’m a realist,” Duggan said. “It goes back to the same old thing, good help, good owners, good everything, it’s taken a while. They trained well up here, that Clare Court is one of the best training tracks in the country. You tend to not overtrain up here, because you want to run, owners want to run, the purse money is good, so you’re more inclined to run here.”

And win.