Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey admits that 2020 has been a strange time for his yard but he hopes to cap it off in some style.
The trainer suffered setbacks owing to Covid-19 rescheduling, mainly including his stable star Code Of Honor.
They’ve managed only five starts combined, however, with a solitary Grade 3 win the highlight to this point, and missed the recent Breeders’ Cup Meeting at Keeneland. Both have impending top-level targets over the coming weeks, much to their trainer’s relief.
“It’s nice to have the first team back,” McGaughey said. “Covid-19 threw a lot of wrinkles into our plans in the spring, but these things run in cycles.
“We had a down cycle there for a bit, and maybe this will help us get going in the right way. We’ve been running the third string for a while.”
North Dakota provided a timely boost for McGaughey when he took out the Grade 3 Red Smith on Saturday and he’s now looking forward to seeing Code Of Honor contest the Grade 1 Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs this coming weekend.
Code Of Honor didn’t reappear until June and he’s yet to hit full stride. McGaughey regrets running in the Metropolitan Handicap in early July, though he concedes the rejigged schedule forced his hand somewhat.
“Running in the Met Mile might have been a mistake, but it’s a hard race to pass up,” he added.
“The cancellations got in Code Of Honor’s way, and he had to start out late and then things were bunched up for him.”
Following that run, Code Of Honor was a well-held fourth in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes in August at Saratoga, after which he was given two months on the easy list. He returned with a runner-up finish in the Kelso Handicap (G2) and his trainer feels that was a stepping stone to better things as he eyes a strong finish to a strange year.
Grade 1 performers Mr Freeze and By My Standards are amongst a field of 13 potential rivals in the $500,000 Clark, with McGaughey feeling good about Code Of Honor’s progress.
“He’s doing really well now and I like the way his races are spaced now, and I think he likes it, too,” he said. “Physically, he’s acting better than I’ve ever seen him.
“But we’ll have to see what happens when we lead him over there. He’s run well over the track before.”