"Getting them out of their stalls—it's a hands-on thing," he says. "After you train them, let them walk around the barn area, pick the grass.... Let them understand that the racetrack isn't a place to be scared of. Be relaxed up there and let them enjoy it—pamper them! Don't be in a rush. Take your time. Fuss with them. Keep them out of their stalls as long as possible. When you do that stuff with them, they're a lot easier and more mentally sound to train."
In McGaughey's mind, such attention has yielded its rewards. Seeking the Gold was an ornery, difficult racehorse at this time last year, a head case in the paddock and at the starting gate, so McGaughey went to work between his ears, schooling him, fussing with him, working with him. "When it all came together, it all came at once," the trainer recalls. "He started eating better. He started running better. He got better at the starting gate. He got better in the paddock. He was feeling good, looking forward to doing things."
While the results of McGaughey's flawless work with Personal Ensign were more obvious, his handling of Seeking the Gold was impressive in its own right, a model of managing a horse patiently. After the colt ran a creditable seventh in the Kentucky Derby, beaten only five lengths, most trainers would have wheeled him back in the Preakness two weeks later. Not McGaughey.
"I wanted to start over again with him and run him in places where he had the best chance to win," he says. "I was wrong running him in the Derby, and I didn't want to do something foolish again." McGaughey passed up the Preakness and instead entered Seeking the Gold in the Peter Pan, a major prep for the 1½-mile Belmont Stakes. The colt won by two. Off that victory, several horsemen urged the trainer to run Seeking the Gold against Risen Star in the Belmont, but once again he wisely shook his head. "I just didn't think he was ready for it," he says. Instead, he sent him in the Dwyer at Belmont Park. The colt won by almost two.
Now he cranked him harder. Inside of a month, in both the Haskell Handicap at Monmouth and the Travers at Saratoga, Forty Niner beat Seeking the Gold by a nose. Then McGaughey backed off again. Pointing for the Breeders' Cup Classic, he sidestepped the rugged fall stakes in New York and sent him to Louisiana Downs for the Super Derby, a softer touch. Seeking the Gold won by a neck, and that victory primed him for the Classic. The older Alysheba was all out to beat him by half a length.
All told, it was a beautifully run campaign that brought him there, one that tested him but did not hang him out to dry. In the parlance of the racetrack, McGaughey did not squeeze the lemon too soon. With Alysheba, Forty Niner and Risen Star all retired, this could be Goldie's year. And McGaughey's.
"I'm doing exactly what I want to do and working for the people I always wanted to work for," McGaughey says. "I wouldn't change a thing in my life. I like everything about it. This is my world."