For someone who is attempting to find diverging paths, Shug McGaughey has a lot of action converging on Saturday.
The Hall of Fame trainer has a starter in three Grade I races, the Alabama and Sword Dancer at Saratoga Race Course, and the Arlington Million in Chicago.
His barn is uncharacteristically brimming with graded-stakes-winning turf horses this year, and the plan is to keep them from running against each other as much as possible until the Breeders’ Cup Turf, when he’d like to be in a position to run all of them.
In the meantime, Point of Entry will race in the Sword Dancer and Boisterous in the Arlington Million, while Air Support waits for the Bowling Green on opening weekend of the Belmont Park fall meet.
Those three are all proven stakes horses, whereas the 3-year-old filly Sea Island is not, but she’ll make a big step up on Saturday in the Alabama against a loaded field that got a little less loaded on Wednesday when Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can was retrieved from Saratoga by trainer Larry Jones and sent back to Kentucky for 30 days of rest.
McGaughey, inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2004, is savoring the opportunity that exists for him and his owners, the Phipps Stable and Stuart Janney III.
“That’s what you do it for, to have these kind of days coming up,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it and wish I had it every weekend. But I think, with two of them, we’re really running the right horse, and with Sea Island, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
McGaughey has won the Alabama four times, with Classy Cathy (1986), Versailles Treaty (1991), Heavenly Prize (1994) and Pine Island (2006).
He’s never won the Sword Dancer, and lost with the one starter that he’s sent to Arlington Park for the Million.
A combination of circumstances, including some turf pedigree, gives him a very strong hand on the grass this year.
Seven of the eight graded stakes that have been won by his stable, three of which were Grade I’s, came in turf races.
Those include the Man ‘o War by Point of Entry on July 14 and the Maker’s 46 Mile in April by Data Link, who was scratched from the Fourstardave last weekend and is pointed to the Bernard Baruch.
“You look at, like, Data Link’s by War Front, who’s by Danzig, and Data Link is out of a Known Factor mare, so that’s grass,” McGaughey said. “Point of Entry’s by Dynamformer out of a Seeking the Gold mare, and for some reason Seeking the Gold mares seem to be kind of casual to the grass. Boisterous’s mother, Emanating, ran on the grass, so I think it’s just kind of the breeding.”
That said, he and his owners don’t look for turf horses at the sales.
“It’s been the opposite; they’re looking for a horse who runs long on the dirt more than they are for a horse that runs long on the turf,” McGaughey said. “We just sort of had an outbreak of that lately, so . . . it’ll change.”
For the time being, they’re in a pretty enviable position.
The 4-year-old Point of Entry was meant for the turf all along, but Boisterous and Data Link were not.
“We always felt like the grass was the best for him because of the way he looked, physically,” McGaughey said. “He’s a big horse, and being by Dynaformer, I always thought grass would be the thing.”
The 5-year-old Boisterous, who was fifth in the Sword Dancer last year, needed six starts to break his maiden in 2010, but when he did, it was on the turf at Saratoga. He’s the 4-1 morning-line favorite for the Arlington Million.
His first turf start came at Belmont, then McGaughey made another adjustment, securing the services of jockey John Velazquez.
“Boisterous was kind of a desperation thing,” McGaughey said. “He disappointed me on the dirt, I ran him on the grass and he ran a really good race. He didn’t win, but then I kind of knew. Then I ran him up here, and he got in a lot of trouble and I put Johnny on him, and it was history from there.”
This year, McGaughey sent Boisterous to Arlington Park in search of softer turf for the Arlington Handicap, where he was second by a neck to Rahystrada on the same day that Point of Entry beat Center Divider by 31⁄2 lengths in the Man ‘o War.
Point of Entry has won three straight at a mile and a half, the Breeders’ Cup Turf distance.
“I think they’re both effective at whatever you want to do, from a mile and a quarter on,” McGaughey said.
“Point of Entry’s had a pretty good year. He won an allowance race back in December. Then we got him to Keeneland, ran him a mile and a half, he won and came out of it really good, so we elected to run him back in the stakes, and he ran even better. I wanted to give him the time so I could have a fresh horse for the fall campaign. So far, it’s all worked out fine.”
CAPTURED VICTORY RIDE
Sea Island earned a look in the Alabama by beating older horses in a nine-furlong allowance optional claiming race at Saratoga on July 26, stretching out from a fourth to Emma’s Encore in the six-furlong Victory Ride.
She’s 12-1 on the morning line and will break from the rail against six, including 7-5 favorite Grace Hall.
“I’m throwing her to the wolves pretty quick, but I do think she’s one that’s going to run that far, and I’ve got a little bit of suspicion whether some of the others will, on their best race,” McGaughey said. “But this will be her first big venture out, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”