Much like the nickname “Shug,” Claude R. McGaughey III’s plans after college were a mystery to him.
McGaughey, who trains Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness favorite Orb, was a student at the University of Mississippi’s business school as the Vietnam War was going on and wasn’t enjoying it — he was "piddling around," as he called it. Drawing a high draft number in the 1969 draft, McGaughey decided to leave school. The only way his parents would allow him to, though, was if he got a job.
McGaughey reached out to a friend who owned several horses at Keeneland in Lexington for work. Having never been around horses, McGaughey was clueless, and he certainly didn’t know working with horses would eventually become his career.
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“I didn’t know anything,” McGaughey said. “As I got to going along, I was so fascinated with what I was seeing and what I was learning. That was different for me than school. It was something I was really, really enjoying. It just kind of went from there.”
After working a couple other jobs, McGaughey officially became a trainer in 1979 — a bit different than the accounting track he had been on at Ole Miss.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do that wasn’t sitting behind a desk,” McGaughey said. “But I guess I had to do something and I got into this. When I started, it wasn’t with the ambition of being a trainer, just see where it takes you. Even when I got started training I don’t think I was really thinking — at that time I knew that’s what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t really thinking about it at that time.”
At the time, McGaughey was training several different owners’ horses, traveling from New York to Kentucky on a regular basis, but he wasn’t comfortable training multiple horses from different stables despite having success all-around.
“I came back after Saratoga to Keeneland and tried to figure this out,” McGaughey said. “That’s when I got the call from the Phipps’, so [Ogden] Phipps figured it out for me.”
McGaughey, who says his family randomly starting calling him Shug as a kid and it stuck, has trained horses for Phipps and cousin Stuart Janney III, a Baltimore County native and resident, exclusively since 1985.
He met with Janney's wife, Lynn, at Pimlico Tuesday after Orb went to the track for the first time since arriving in Baltimore on Monday. Orb went the wrong way around the track slowly.
"He's moving well with great energy," McGaughey said. "I'm pretty pleased with what I see."
Lynn Janney took a moment to pet Orb, and spent much of the morning watching him go through his routine.
"This is what it's all about," Lynn Janney said. "Being here, being around them, seeing them get ready."
Orb schooled in the paddock later Wednesday and did well; in Kentucky he'd been jolted by heavy machinery nearby that caused another horse to completely fall over.
Stuart Janney is the chairman of the Bessemer Trust and spends much of his time either in New York or traveling, but will return to Baltimore Wednesday night to prepare to finally race a horse in his state's most prestigious race.
The draw for the 138th Preakness is at 6 p.m. tonight and will be televised on HRTV.