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Impossible as it seems, Shug McGaughey hasn’t always trained the Phipps family stable. He’s looking right down the barrel of 25 years in that position, however, and the tipping point (tipping horse?) that made him irresistible for that job was the 1985 championship season the trainer put together for Loblolly Stable’s Vanlandingham.

Off more than 12 months following a hairline fracture in the 1984 Kentucky Derby won by Swale, Vanlandingham won his first three starts in 1985, including the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs and the Suburban Handicap at Belmont. After a third in the Whitney, a second in the Woodward (both won by Track Barron), and a third in the Marlboro Cup (won by Chief’s Crown), Vanlandingham won the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The son of Cox’s Ridge confirmed his capacity for racing 12 furlongs with victory in the Washington DC International on turf and took home the statuary at the Eclipse Awards.

The young trainer’s confident handling of a horse many people considered a “speed horse” caught the attention of perceptive owner-breeders, such as Ogden Phipps, Seth Hancock, and others familiar with the Loblolly Stable operation who had closely observed Vanlandingham’s successes at Belmont (Suburban and JCGC) and Laurel.

It wasn’t just that McGaughey was a good hand with horses. Lots of trainers were. But McGaughey also understood that a home breeder didn’t buy 50 seven-figure yearlings every year just to have 49 of them ground to dust before the midpoint of their second season.

Clearly, McGaughey could adapt his training to fit the horse and allow the animal to come right … providing it had the ability. The Phippses (and a handful of other major breeders) had horses with the ability, and they needed the right trainer to find a way of expressing athletic ability consistently on the racetrack.

Among the 3-year-olds that the Phippses had in 1986 were Personal Flag, a Private Account colt who improved immensely with time and distance. He became a multiple G1 winner with McGaughey’s training, earned $1.2 million. The big colt’s full sister was only a 2-year-old, but they had named her Personal Ensign.

Another 2-year-old was a chestnut colt by Mr. Prospector named Mining. Not as a tough as the “personal” siblings, Mining didn’t come right until his 4-year-old season in 1988, but he won six of seven starts, including the G1 Vosburgh.

Another 2-year-old of 1986 was named Cadillacing, a bay filly out of the Buckpasser mare Relaxing. The mare went back to Alydar in 1985 and in the spring of 1986 delivered a radiant chestnut colt. Named Easy Goer, he won an Eclipse Award for Mr. Phipps as a 2-year-old, and the next year won the Belmont Stakes.

The McGaughey express had wings like Pegasus.

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