Five trainers inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame have strings this year at Oaklawn, including one whose rise to national prominence began more than 40 years ago in Hot Springs.
Shug McGaughey has a division of horses at Oaklawn for the first time since 1985, when his major client was Arkansas lumberman John Ed Anthony. McGaughey’s circuit, however, changed later that year when he was hired to train for the New York-based Phipps family, among the most iconic names in racing history. After reuniting with Ed Anthony last year, McGaughey is back in Hot Springs with a string of horses overseen by his son, Reeve, 30, who is at Oaklawn for the first time.
“I think it was about what I expected,” Reeve McGaughey said during training hours Saturday morning. “I’ve had plenty of people I know that have come through here and stayed here for the winter or come to run or just come to watch the races, so I had a little bit of an education of what it would be like. But it’s nice. The barn area is nice. We’ve had a little trouble with the weather since we’ve been here. Everybody said it had been perfect until this week, but the track has held up good. No complaints.”
McGaughey said his father’s 11-horse stable includes six for Anthony, “a couple” for the Phipps family and one for another high-profile client, Will Farish. The total should eventually climb to around 15.
Among McGaughey’s horses for Anthony is Plainsman, a 2018 Oaklawn maiden winner for trainer Will VanMeter who captured the $200,000 Discovery Stakes (G3) later that year at Aqueduct for trainer Brad Cox.
“We just got him last May,” McGaughey said. “First time we ran him, he ran really well. The next couple times, he kind of ran OK, so we gave him a little break and freshened him up for the meet and changed a couple of things up. He’s been doing really well. I think he’ll run well when he goes over there.”
McGaughey said Plainsman is scheduled to make his 5-year-old debut early next month. McGaughey said his father’s first Oaklawn starter at the meet is scheduled to be Fast Talking, a lightly raced Phipps homebred who has a string of works at Payson Park Training Center in Florida in advance of his 5-year-old debut.
McGaughey’s horses are housed in the new Heavenly Prize barn. McGaughey trained Heavenly Prize, who was the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 1994 and winner of Oaklawn’s $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) in 1995. A Phipps homebred, Heavenly Prize was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018.
McGaughey’s first career stakes winner, Northernette, came in the 1978 Apple Blossom. McGaughey has four other stakes victories in Hot Springs, including the $100,000 Rebel in 1984 with the Anthony-owned Vanlandingham and the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G1) in 2001 with the royally bred Traditionally, another Phipps homebred. Traditionally was sired by Mr. Prospector and is out of unbeaten Hall of Famer Personal Ensign, also a Phipps homebred trained by McGaughey. Vanlandingham was named the country’s champion older male in 1985.
McGaughey started at least 10 horses every year at Oaklawn between 1980-1985 and has won a robust 28 percent of his overall starts in Hot Springs (57 of 205). His last Oaklawn starter was in 2012.
“He kind of filled me in on a few little things before I got here,” Reeve McGaughey said of his father. “Some of it has changed since then, but we still talk every day. He always asks, ‘What time are we training?’ ”
Shug McGaughey won an Eclipse Award as the country’s outstanding trainer in 1988 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004. Other Hall of Fame trainers with strings this year at Oaklawn are Steve Asmussen, D. Wayne Lukas, Nick Zito and Jerry Hollendorfer. Asmussen has won 10 Oaklawn training titles – all since 2007 – while Lukas annually winters in Hot Springs. Zito had a division of horses at Oaklawn for the first time in 2019 and Hollendorfer is wintering at Oaklawn for the first time in 2020.
It’s Raining Again
Raintree Starlet will make her 4-year-old debut in the $125,000 American Beauty Stakes for older female sprinters Feb. 1, trainer Brian Williamson said Saturday morning. Raintree Starlet recorded three consecutive victories to open 2019, capped by the $100,000 Dixie Belle Stakes last February at Oaklawn.
Unraced since early August, Raintree Starlet worked 3 furlongs out of the gate in :35.80 Friday morning.
“She’s doing good,” Williamson said. “Sitting on go, hopefully.”
The American Beauty closed Thursday with 24 nominations. Other locally based horses pointing for the 6-furlong race include 2019 winner Amy’s Challenge, Ascot Day and Pretty Greeley.
With 2019 Oaklawn riding champion David Cohen aboard, Amy’s Challenge completed major preparations for the American Beauty by working 5 furlongs in 1:04 Saturday morning over a good surface for trainer Mac Robertson. Amy’s Challenge, who breezed in company, galloped out 6 furlongs in 1:16.60.
Also closing Thursday was the $150,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The 1-mile race is the scheduled two-turn debut for unbeaten Taraz, who is trained by Brad Cox.
The Martha Washington drew 36 nominees.
Caldwell Looing to Reach 1,000 Wins in 2020
If past performances are an indication, four-time Oaklawn leading owner Danny Caldwell will reach 1,000 career Thoroughbred victories this year, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.
Caldwell, a former high school coach, won his first Thoroughbred race in 2007 and entered Friday with 925. He had at least 100 victories every year in 2014-2018 and finished with 93 in 2019 to rank eighth nationally. Caldwell has ranked in the top 10 nationally in victories every year since 2014, when he won his first of four consecutive owner’s titles at Oaklawn.
“I never would have dreamed I’d win 1,000 races,” Caldwell said Thursday afternoon. “I hope we can reach that milestone this year. If everything goes good, I think we can.”
The immediate chase will continue primarily at Oaklawn, which opened its 57-day meet Friday. Caldwell said he has 34 horses at Oaklawn with his private trainer, Federico Villafranco, and seven more at Delta Downs in Louisiana. Caldwell said his 2020 stable mirrors previous years, with several home-run claims leading the way.
“Actually, I feel a little better this year coming in here because I went to Keeneland and bought some horses to restock,” Caldwell said. “I’ve still got some of the horses that I claimed here last year that we kept all year and done really well for us.”
That successful claiming contingent includes Chris and Dave ($45,000), D’Rapper ($40,000) and Heavens Whisper ($6,250).
Chris and Dave has won four races since being claimed, including the $65,000 Jim Rasmussen Memorial Stakes last July at Prairie Meadows, and is entered in the first division of Saturday’s $100,000 Fifth Season Stakes for older horses.
D’Rapper won three consecutive races last summer at Prairie Meadows, including the $100,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap. Heavens Whisper has won six races for Caldwell and nine victories overall made her the co-winningest horse in the country in 2019. Heavens Whisper is scheduled to make her 2020 debut in Saturday’s ninth race, an allowance/optional claiming sprint for older fillies and mares.
“They’re just good hard-knocking horses,” Caldwell said. “We give them breaks through the year, give them a little time off and bring them back.”
Caldwell purchased four horses at the 2019 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, including social media sensation Southern Phantom, a 4-year-old son of Bodemeister noted for a bald face, one blue eye and four long stockings. Caldwell said Southern Phantom, winless in seven career starts, is scheduled to make his 2020 debut in late February or early March. Southern Phantom was purchased for $20,000.
Caldwell bought four more horses at the 2020 Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale, including unraced 3-year-old Happy Tapit, a son of super sire Tapit and half-brother to millionaire and multiple Grade 1 winner Palace. Caldwell said the $15,000 purchase is also at Oaklawn preparing for his career debut.
Caldwell has 137 career victories at Oaklawn. He won 22 races last year to finish a distant second to M and M Racing (Mike and Mickala Sisk), which set a single-season Oaklawn record with 61 victories. M and M ended Caldwell’s four-year Oaklawn reign in 2018, when the final margin was considerably closer (21-17).
“We’re just trying to win races and stay in the business,” Caldwell said. “Make a living and take care of the horses. Make sure they have aftercare, things you need to be responsible for. When I came down and won the first year, I wasn’t expecting to win the owner’s title. Once I did it, I thought I might be able to do it again because I’ve got numbers. I’m going to stay around here at Oaklawn. I’ve got 36 stalls. I’m going to be at 36-40 horses here, where I can ship in and out. If I can do that, we plan on trying to win 20-something races, just like we normally do. We’ll be happy if we win 25 races. We’ll be tickled to death.”
Caldwell, who lives in Poteau, Okla., is the perennial leading owner at his home track, Remington Park in Oklahoma City, and has also topped the standings at Prairie Meadows in Iowa. Caldwell won his first race at Oaklawn in 2008.
Unbeaten Ancient Warrior moved closer to his 3-year-old debut by working 5 furlongs in 1:00.40 Saturday morning for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Ancient Warrior, who galloped out 6 furlongs in 1:13, was a sharp front-running winner of his Nov. 23 career debut at Del Mar. … David Cohen, Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2019, is scheduled to resume riding Sunday after missing the first two days of the meet because of a suspension for a riding infraction at last year’s meet. Cohen is named on nine horses Sunday. … Ingrid Mason, the second-winningest female trainer in Oaklawn history, swept Friday’s early daily double. Mason opened the meet by winning the first race with Arrival ($31.60) and the second race with Willow Moon ($9.80). Mason entered Saturday with 104 career victories at Oaklawn. … Irad Ortiz Jr., a day after winning an Eclipse Award as the country’s outstanding jockey of 2019, had double a Friday, taking the fourth race aboard Villainous ($15.60) for trainer Jeremiah Englehart and the ninth race aboard unbeaten Ring Leader ($26.60) for trainer Mac Robertson. Villainous represented the first career Oaklawn victory for the New York-based Englehart, who is wintering in Hot Springs for the time this year. Ortiz and Englehart also teamed to finish second with Three Technique in Friday’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds.