Hall of Famer McGaughey Back at Preakness for First Time in a Decade

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Shug McGaughey Orb Perform Preakness Triple Crown
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, above at Pimlico in 2013 with Orb, is back is back at the Preakness in 2023 for the first time in 10 years with Federico Tesio Stakes winner Perform. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey will have a runner in the May 20 Preakness Stakes for the first time in 10 years when he saddles Perform in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

It’s a completely different scenario from the last time the trainer brought a horse from his Belmont Park home base to Pimlico Race Course for Maryland’s signature race. McGaughey and his 2013 Kentucky Derby hero Orb generated all the buzz in the lead-up to the Preakness. Orb, who provided the then 62-year-old horseman with his first Kentucky Derby victory, was the odds-on favorite in the Preakness but only managed to finish fourth in the field of nine for Phipps Stable and Stuart S. Janney III.

“Just nothing went right. He got hung down on the inside, and he didn’t do any running down in there,” McGaughey recalled. “That was the biggest thing; he got to the race the right way and did everything right. He had the one-hole and when they broke, he just got himself in a jam the whole way. When he got loose, he finished a little bit. I was surprised he finished fourth.”

On Saturday, McGaughey, whose best finish in the Preakness from three prior starters is a second in the 1989 edition with Easy Goer, who later won the Belmont Stakes, is hoping the rapidly-improving Perform will land him in the winner’s circle and allow him to claim ownership to winning each of the Triple Crown races.

Like this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner Mage, Perform is a son of Good Magic. The lightbulb went on for the bay colt when he was stretched out in distance March 11 at Tampa Bay Downs and easily broke his maiden in a one-mile and 40-yard race in what was his sixth career start for his owners, Woodford Racing, Lanes End Farm, Phipps Stable, Ken Langone, and Edward Hudson Jr.

Perform winning the Tesio Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Perform followed his maiden-breaker with a head victory in the April 15 Federico Tesio Stakes at 1 1/8 miles at Laurel Park. Soon after, his connections made the decision to supplement the colt to the 1 3/16-mile Preakness for $150,000.

It won’t be Perform’s first time meeting Mage in the Preakness. The two faced each other in a Jan. 28 maiden special weight on the Pegasus card at Gulfstream Park. Mage, the gate-to-wire winner, crossed the finish line 3 3/4 lengths in front of his nearest rival in the seven-furlong race while Perform checked in fourth, beaten 5 1/2 lengths.

“He’s been a horse that has always trained really good. If you look back at his sprint races, they weren’t that bad,” McGaughey remarked. “Maybe the one at Churchill was, but he would be fourth, beaten four or five lengths, and decent horses beat him. Everything came together when we ran him two turns over at Tampa with Irad [Ortiz Jr.]. Irad kind of schooled him a little bit and got him to relax behind those horses and he finished up really good.

“I do think he is more engaged [in his training] now. He’s very free when he’s galloping out here in the morning. He seems to like what he is doing. Watching him around the barn, he seems to be a happy horse. He’s eating very well. I worked him five-eighths [May 7] and came back and worked him a half [May 14], and I thought it was even better.

“Whether he is good enough, who knows, but I think he is a horse on the improve and wants to run that far.”

Feargal Lynch (Eclipse Sportswire)

Maryland-based rider Feargal Lynch, aboard for the Tesio, has the mount in the Preakness, which will be his first time riding in the classic. The jockey was also aboard Perform for his May 7 breeze at Belmont.

“It was a confidence builder for me and maybe [Lynch] too [having him work Perform],” McGaughey said. “I know he has a lot of confidence in the horse because I watched his interview after the [Tesio] and he was pretty impressed with the way he ran. He said distance wouldn’t be a factor and in the interview, he said, ‘Too bad he wasn’t nominated to the Preakness, because I think this is a Preakness-type horse.’ ”

McGaughey said Perform’s partners were “very willing” to put up the six-figure supplemental fee for Perform to compete Saturday, and Bill Farish, the founder of the Lane’s End-affiliated Woodford Racing, concurred. As one of five partners behind Perform, Woodford Racing separately packaged Perform as part of four 2-year-olds they purchased last year and then offered ownership interest to their investors. Perform was consigned to the 2022 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. March 2-year-olds in training sale but was withdrawn when privately purchased by his current connections before the auction.

Farish remembers a colt that impressed in every manner, including his eighth-of-a-mile breeze in :10.20 at the OBS under-tack show as part of the Eddie Woods consignment. Perform, who was bred in Kentucky by Michael Orem and J.B. Lane Orem and is out of the Tale of Ekati mare Jane Says, originally went through the auction ring for Beau Lane Bloodstock as a yearling at Keeneland September selling for $230,000 to Quarter Pole Enterprises.

“He worked before the OBS sale and our team and [Woodford bloodstock advisor] David Ingordo and everybody was down there, and we all really just loved the colt, so we put together the group and bought him,” Farish said.

“I think everybody understands the importance of the Preakness and the opportunity that a good performance on Saturday would bring and what it means to the horse as an essential stallion prospect, and everything else,” he added. “While it’s not ideal to have to supplement — no one really thought twice about it. It does help, obviously, when you’re dividing by five instead of one person putting up the whole [supplemental fee]. Being it’s a partnership situation, it was a little easier to swallow.”

For Woodford Racing, a partnership group Farish founded in 2005, this year marks the first time they have a runner in the Preakness. Farish said for some of the 15 Woodford partners involved with Perform, it represents a continuation of heady times that started last year with the undefeated Flightline, the 2022 Horse of the Year, who Woodford raced in partnership with Hronis Racing, Siena Farm, West Point Thoroughbreds, and Jane Lyon’s Summer Wind Equine. Flightline now stands at stud at Farish’s Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, Ky.

“A lot of the same [Woodford] partners who were involved with Flightline are in this horse, and they are just sort of pinching themselves that they could be in the Breeders’ Cup and only a few months later be running in the Preakness. It’s amazing, for sure. The partners are so excited about the horse. He has come so far, so fast.”

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