Storm Flag Flying was born to be special.
Her sire, Storm Cat, was the best of the best. Her dam, My Flag, was by Hall of Famer Easy Goer. Her granddam, Personal Ensign, enjoyed a storied career in going undefeated in 13 lifetime starts.
“We’ve had them with a lot of pedigree and they couldn’t run,” he said. “We’ve had them with a lot of pedigree and they could run.”
Storm Flag Flying could run, all right. But would she run straight? It was apparent rather quickly that My Flag, an extremely temperamental sort, had passed on a measure of unpredictability.
“It was nothing we couldn’t manage,” McGaughey said, “but she had some quirks about her.”
She would freeze in the shedrow, taking in everything around her until she was ready to budge. She tested the ability of many an exercise rider.
“She wasn’t trying to hurt anybody,” McGaughey said, “but she scared her riders a little bit. She made me nervous and she kind of knew it.”
When it was finally time for Storm Flag Flying to debut on Aug. 18, 2002 at Saratoga Race Course, McGaughey both winced at what he observed and liked it just as much.
“She didn’t break good and she weaved her way through there,” he said. “She was just running everywhere. She was in and out, ducking from the dirt, this and that.”
With all of that, she won.
McGaughey saw enough – and knew there were enough avenues for improvement – that he stepped her up to the Grade 1 Matron Stakes for her second start. On that day, it was clear to McGaughey and everyone else watching that she would run to her pedigree. She romped by 12 ¾ lengths in a much more polished effort that was a tribute to her trainer and his staff.
Storm Flag Flying used a two-length victory in the Grade 1 Frizette as a springboard to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, where she was an overwhelming favorite for what turned into the most memorable start of her career.
She made the lead at the top of the stretch for regular rider John Velazquez. That was not necessarily a good thing, because her mind wandered. She began taking in the bustling trackside scene. The aptly-named Composure capitalized on that lapse to charge ahead of her and appeared to be bound for victory.
But Storm Flag Flying displayed immense grit to go with all of that innate ability she possessed the day she was foaled at Claiborne Farm. She found herself locked in battle -- and she fought with every fiber in her being.
“She dug down,” McGaughey said. “When that horse came to her and went by her, it made her focus and she finished.”
She won by half a length, allowing her to join My Flag and Personal Ensign in earning Breeders’ Cup victories, and securing the Eclipse Award as the leading 2-year-old filly in North America. McGaughey lavished the highest praise on her when he said, “I think she was probably as good a 2-year-old filly as I’ve ever had.”
The excitement surrounding her 3-year-old season, though, quickly dissipated. She was not ready for the Kentucky Oaks and instead returned to the races with a runner-up finish in the Comely Stakes at Aqueduct. Alarms went off after she struggled home next to last in the Acorn.
Sure enough, a thorough veterinary examination revealed a small fracture in her right hind cannon bone, ending her campaign almost before it started.
The decision was made to return her to competition at 4. That proved to be wise. She defeated Hall of Famer Azeri in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign and overcame a difficult trip to be second to Ashado in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
It hurt her cause that Velazquez had taken off to ride Ashado for trainer Todd Pletcher, his top client. Jerry Bailey, his replacement, lacked familiarity with Storm Flag Flying. That was costly.
“I think if Bailey had been on her one more time, it would have made a difference,” McGaughey said. “She got a little too far back and she came running. She ran a really good race.”
That would be the final start of Storm Flag Flying’s career before she joined the Phipps’s illustrious broodmare band. She was 16 when she died of complications during the foaling of a Candy Ride filly on Jan. 22, 2016 at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital. The foal was saved.
McGaughey has overseen so many elite horses. He will always be grateful that Storm Flag Flying came his way, even at her quirkiest.
“It was a pleasure having her,” he said, “although she kept me up at night.”
- Storm Flag Flying was a descendant of Grecian Banner, 1988 Kentucky Broodmare of the Year
- Personal Ensign, her granddam, was honored as 1996 Kentucky Broodmare of the Year
- Storm Cat, her sire, commanded $200,000 fee
- Storm Cat’s fee later grew to $500,000 as his popularity soared
- Storm Flag Flying received 226 of possible 227 votes for Eclipse Award as leading 2-year-old filly