Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey earned his 2,000th career victory — and he made it memorable.
Fly So High, purchased by Phipps Stable for $675,000 as a yearling, took command at the top of the stretch in the Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes and powered home by three lengths under jockey Jose Ortiz to give McGaughey the milestone triumph.
“I’m thrilled about it,” McGaughey said. “There’s a tremendous amount of people to thank for it. I’m the guy who gets the credit, but there are a lot of people behind the scenes that deserve the credit.”
He praised Ortiz for a smart ride. “I thought Jose put her in good position,” he said. “I told him in the [Gulfstream Park] paddock, ‘Once she gets her feet under her, they’ll have a tough time outsprinting her.’ ”
McGaughey has always understood how challenging a game racing can be, and the Davona Dale provided a reminder of that. Fly So High was vanned off as a precaution after Ortiz felt she was a bit off in her left front.
“She didn’t feel bad all the way,” Ortiz said. “But when I pulled up and jogged, she was a little off.”
McGaughey was encouraged by his initial inspection of the 3-year-old Malibu Moon filly after her third consecutive victory in four lifetime starts.
“Maybe she did something to her foot or jammed something,” he said. “But when I got over there, it wasn’t like her leg was filled up or anything like that.”
He noted that it appeared to him that Fly So High “walked on the van sound.” He later said that Fly So High was cooling out after the one-mile Davona Dale without any apparent issue.
McGaughey, 67, earned his fourth victory in the Davona Dale, including the inaugural running in 1988. The Lexington native realized a lifelong dream when Orb rolled to victory in the 2013 Kentucky Derby.
McGaughey campaigned another top 3-year-old in Easy Goer, who swept the Belmont Stakes and the Travers in 1989. He also oversaw Personal Ensign, who closed her career undefeated after 13 starts when she topped Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
In addition, McGaughey trained Eclipse Award winners Heavenly Prize, Inside Information, Queena, Rhythm, Smuggler, Storm Flag Flying, and Vanlandingham.