By Jennie Rees – Reeve McGaughey earned his first training victory in his home state Saturday as 12-1 shot Nathan Detroit won his debut in the sixth race for 2-year-olds at the RUNHAPPY Summer Meet at Ellis Park. But the 31-year-old horseman certainly is no stranger to the winner’s circle in Kentucky and elsewhere.
McGaughey is the son of New York-based Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey and veteran Kentucky horsewoman Mary Jane Featherston McGaughey.
His uncle is Charlie LoPresti, for whom Reeve McGaughey was an assistant for five years during which time the stable had two-time Horse of the Year and three-time turf champion Wise Dan.
Before going out on his own, Reeve served for several years as an assistant to his dad, which made it easier for the elder McGaughey to run more horses in Kentucky.
“I’ve grown up around it between my uncle, my dad, my mom, my step dad (Brent Smith),” Reeve McGaughey said. “I don’t think you’re ever completely prepared for when it’s your name in the program versus somebody else’s, just the responsibility of it. But I think we’re starting to get the hang of it now, hopefully.”
Reeve McGaughey sent out his first runner as a trainer on Feb. 2 at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park and earned his first victory in his eighth start. Nathan Detroit was his 20th starter for his Lexington-based stable that now totals 12 horses.
“He’s been patient by doing it so he didn’t get overrun with maybe not enough help and too many horses to deal with right off the bat,” Shug McGaughey, speaking from New York, said of Reeve building a stable. “I think he’s done a very good job of that.”
Nathan Detroit is owned by Joe Allen, one of his dad’s clients. Reeve also ran a horse Saturday at Ellis for the Phipps Stable, the powerful outfit that brought the elder McGaughey to New York from Kentucky 35 years ago.
“They’d all been around him,” Shug said of his owners and his son. “They all like and admired Reeve. If the horse wasn’t going to do in New York, they wanted to have it with him down there. That’s worked out well.
“It’s not me pushing the horses there. We talk every day, because I’m interested in what he’s doing. But I’ve also tried to stay away from it. I don’t want to be influencing him one way or the other. If he had a question, I’d be glad to answer it.”
One big difference between being an assistant trainer and being a trainer?
“It’s a whole lot easier to sign the back of a check than the front of a check,” Reeve McGaughey acknowledged. And winning? “It’s almost more of a relief, to be honest,” he said with a laugh. “I think you stress out so much about every one.”
Each start with each horse means so much financially and otherwise to a small stable, perhaps even more when a trainer is trying to get established.
“You put a lot into each horse going into each race,” Reeve McGaughey said. “Maybe you stress a little more because you don’t have three more to run the next day to make up for that one. So yeah, it feels good when they run well.”
Shug McGaughey, who won the 2013 Kentucky Derby with Orb, said he hopes his son learned from him. “But I think he’s done a lot and put a lot into it himself to try to get this stuff figured out,” he said. “As he goes along, obviously he’s going to figure more and more out.
“One of the good things about him is he’s patient. He knows when to go and when to stop, and he’s not afraid to do that. When I first started, I probably was a little hesitant on the stopping part of it. But he’s not.”
The elder McGaughey said it was clear early on that Reeve would become a trainer.
“I talked to him about getting a job in the racing office, just to learn that part,” Shug said. “He said, ‘No, I want to train horses.’ It’s been on his mind since he was a teenager. When he first started, I said, ‘You know, you’ve got to learn from the bottom up.’ And that’s what he’s done.
“He’s put a lot, a lot of time into it. As a father, I wish he had more time to himself. But that’s not the way this game is. He understands that. He enjoys being at the barn. That’s what he likes to do, and he’s not afraid to work. Hopefully it will start paying off for him.”
Eclipse Award-winning Jennie Rees is an HRI contributor