Shug’s 32: Seeking The Gold

- -

In celebration of Shug McGaughey winning the Kentucky Derby, we went back to the 2004 archives and found Shug’s 32 flavors, when we asked Shug to talk about one of his horses every day in The Saratoga Special. They are included in our book, The Best of the Saratoga Special. Seems like a good time to read a few. Here’s the second.

Seeking The Gold won the Dwyer, Super Derby, Swale and Peter Pan in 1988. The son of Mr. Prospector just missed winning the Haskell and Travers, failing in photos to Forty Niner. Out of the Buckpasser mare Con Game, the Phipps homebred earned $2.3 million.

“The day after Christmas I flew back to Florida. Personal Flag was in the Widener and Seeking The Gold was making his first start, he was a 2-year-old. Personal Flag won the Widener, and they used to have a press conference up in the press box. I said, ‘I gotta wait, I run this horse in the last. I’ll come up afterward.’ It was about half dark and he won from here to that house over there. We went up to the press conference and nobody cared about Personal Flag. They all just wanted to know who he was.

“He won his first four starts. (Randy) Romero was riding him and he kept telling me how easy he was winning but it was taking him awhile to get over his races. He won the Swale and I brought him back here and ran him in the Gotham against Private Terms. He got behind and the dirt started hitting him in the face and he finished second. We ran him in the Wood and finished second again to Private Terms on an off track.

“I didn’t know anything about the numbers then, but these guys come and say, ‘You gotta run him in the Derby. He ran a 1 on the sheets.’ We ran him in the Derby and he just wasn’t ready for it. He legitimately should have run in it, Private Terms was the 8-5 favorite and we had just been second to him twice. I thought with a little bit of luck, he could have won (he finished seventh).

“Then he went on to be a nice horse – 110 percent. I put Pat Day on him after that, he won the Peter Pan and everybody wanted me to run him in the Belmont. I said, ‘No, we’re not running in the Belmont, he won’t run that far.’ We ran him back in the Dwyer and he won, then we took him down there for the Haskell and Forty Niner beat him a nose.

“I’ll never forget it, I was sitting there in those box seats and Indian Charlie was standing there, he had those binoculars. They hooked up at the five-sixteenths pole and he looked at me said, ‘Shug, these horses are fixin’ to do some running.’ He was right.

“It was 100 some degrees in the paddock at Monmouth, we put them on the van and brought them back up (to Saratoga). The next Saturday or Sunday, Woody (Stephens) works his horse five-eighths in 59. I said, ‘I got this son of a —– now. No horse can stand that.’ I went a half the next Wednesday or something in 52. The next weekend, here goes Woody again, fast.

“In the Travers, he outsmarted everybody on that deal. He told (Chris) McCarron to drift out a little bit and let Pat Day get there, then shut the door. That’s what he did, and we came around, we got beat that far.

“They always told me he wouldn’t get a mile and a quarter. And I always said, ‘He’ll get a mile and a quarter if I can get him to where he’ll wait on his rider.’ Two times (after the Derby) he ran a mile and a quarter and got beat a nose in the Travers to Forty Niner and he got beat a neck to Alysheba in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“To get him, with his pedigree, to run a mile and a quarter in top-class company was pretty satisfying. I was disappointed that he got beat those two times, but I wasn’t disappointed in the effort.”

Email me at [email protected] to order The Best of The Saratoga Special, which includes all 32 horses Shug talked about that summer.