Trainer Shug McGaughey is one of the most respected and renowned
trainers in racing today. Unlike many top trainers, he does not wield several
barn-fulls of horses across the country. He does not garner attention with
flashy results produced by young, precocious juveniles, nor does he
overwhelm with an armada of horses. He is patient and willing to let his horses
tell him when they are ready.
One of the first horses to put this trainer on the
big stage was a big, handsome, regally bred chestnut by the name of Easy Goer.
The son of Alydar, was an anomaly for his trainer, showing great talent even
during his juvenile year. While he won two stakes in 1988, he made an even bigger name for himself at three, when he decimated all comers while contesting the
road to the Kentucky Derby. There he met a rival of equal ability, in Sunday
Silence. As they say, from there, the rest is history, as the two embarked upon
one of the biggest rivalries since Affirmed and Alydar.
Fast forward about 25 some odd years later, and Shug is back
with another regally bred colt by the name of Orb. We all remember him, don’t
we? Not as precocious as Shug’s other Triple Crown contestant, years ago, but
nonetheless, after improving greatly from age two to three, he entered the
Kentucky Derby unbeaten as a three year old, and gave his trainer that elusive
and coveted win, avenging Easy Goer’s loss.
This year Shug is back with not just one, but two very
talented colts. Honor Code, one of the last foals sired by sire of sires, A.P.
Indy and Top Billing, sired by the mighty Curlin. Both showed talent
during their two year old season, with Honor Code being the more precocious and
accomplished. With these two talented colts, Shug has the ability not just to
win the Kentucky Derby, but the Triple Crown. However, with Honor Code missing
training due to bruising his heels, therefore, causing his prep races to be rescheduled,
people have begun to question Shug and his talented charge.
I’ve seen people saying Honor Code will not be able to make
the Derby, that if he does he won’t be ready, that Shug is wasting time and that he
should just find a race and stick to it. I say, you all need to take a chill pill
and stop back-seat training. Like I said above, Shug doesn’t not make a horse
conform to his schedule, he lets them tell him when they are ready, and he is
doing just that with Honor Code.
Honor Code came into this year off a surgery. That alone
would put him slightly behind in his training. Then, due to the deeper track at
Payson's training track, he bruised the back of his heels. Neither the surgery nor the
injury were major, and both took minimal time for the colt to recover.
Also, take note, that Honor Code had a very competitive Juvenile year,
competing in two stakes running from the distances 7-9 furlongs, while facing
the best horses in the division. Despite his time off, he still has a very good
foundation from that year.
The minor issue with his heels did cause him to miss his
first scheduled start, the Fountain of Youth, but also opened up a golden opportunity
for his stalemate, Top Billing, to make his debut against stakes horses. Yes,
his connections were pointing to the Gotham Stakes, and then re-routed again to
their most recent target, the Rebel at Oaklawn. However, this does not mean
that Shug is second guessing.
The Rebel gives Shug more time to train and prepare Honor
Code for his seasonal bow, while also giving him several other options for a
final prep. Shug also has seen the history that Aqueduct has had in the Triple
Crown over the last several years, vs. that of Oaklawn. Oaklawn draws better
horses and prepares them better, than the track and competition at Aqueduct.
It is a win-win for him to point Honor Code to the Rebel.
He gets to keep his two best horses separated, while allowing both to compete
and prepare at the two tracks that have the best track record for parlaying
success to the Triple Crown. Shug is a quiet genius. He’s shown it over and
I am not saying Honor Code will be ready, but you can better
believe that Shug will not do anything without his horse signaling his readiness. I
say trust in Shug. Trust in him to do what is right by his charge.