Trainer Claude McGaughey goes by the nickname "Shug," but the more apropos moniker may now be "First Ballot" McGaughey after being selected for induction to the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility Tuesday.
McGaughey, who took out his trainer's license in 1979, was selected over fellow finalists Nick Zito and John Veitch in the Contemporary Trainer category. A trainer must be licensed for 25 years to be eligible for the Hall.
In the past, McGaughey said he had sat in rooms with members of the Hall of Fame and been told when you get elected to the Hall of Fame "it's an honor that becomes hard to believe.
"I thought, why do you think that? But that's what I'm thinking," said McGaughey, who won the 1988 Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer. "To be honored by people in the business, and look out at the other trainers that are in there, it goes through your head, 'Am I up to the task?"
McGaughey, 53, has been up to the task since saddling his first winner at Rockingham Park in 1976.
A native of Lexington, Ky., McGaughey has spent most of his career as trainer for the Phipps family stable of New York. McGaughey has trained eight champions for the Phipps and other clients. Among the champions trained by McGaughey were Phipps homebreds Easy Goer, Storm Flag Flying, and the undefeated Personal Ensign, who McGaughey called his favorite horse to train.
"(That's) because she did something nobody had ever done," McGaughey said of Personal Ensign's unblemished record. "She was a career maker,"
Through May 23, McGaughey has won 1,379 races (23.5%) from 5,854 starts and earned $83,918,770. Through 2003 he had won 237 graded stakes, including eight Breeders' Cup races.
McGaughey's most prolific day came in 1993 on Breeders' Cup Preview day at Belmont Park. Seven horses were saddled by McGaughey that day and six reached the winners' circle. Miner's Mark won the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Lure took the Kelso Handicap, Heavenly Prize won the Frizette, the Beldame went to Dispute, and Strolling Along won the Lawrence Realization. McGuaghey also won an allowance race on the program with Regal Solution.