OZONE PARK, N.Y.— The past couple of weekends have given Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey high hopes as the 2023 racing season approaches, having saddled turf sophomores Skims and Celestial City to graded stakes scores at Belmont at the Big A. The latter, a Stuart S. Janney, III homebred, captured Saturday’s Grade 2, $300,000 Hill Prince despite stumbling at the start, and equaled a career-best 89 Beyer Speed Figure for the 2 1/4-length win in the nine-furlong inner-turf test for sophomores.
Celestial City, by Uncle Mo, was forced to utilize different tactics from his previous stalking technique after breaking poorly from his inside post. But the now three-time winner appeared to relish the late-rallying style, maintaining his rail position down the backstretch and angled a path wide passing the chute in mid-stretch to power past pacesetting longshot Nantasket Beach and Grade 1-placed Mackinnon to make the grade.
“He always had been laying up a little bit closer and kind of hanging, but yesterday, when he didn’t break well, he was back and was able to make that one move at the end,” McGaughey said. “I think that’s probably going to be the secret to him. By doing that, we did learn something.”
The victory came one week after McGaughey saddled Skims to victory in the Hill Prince’s female counterpart race, the Grade 2 Sands Point. With stakes options for straight 3-year-olds limited at the end of the calendar year, McGaughey said this pair of victories provide a great deal of optimism.
“I think both of those horses are on the improve and I think they’ll both do what we want them to do whether it’s a mile and an eighth or something even farther,” McGaughey said. “We’ll see how it comes up, but for sure something to look forward to. He seemed to come back fine, all is good.”
McGaughey previously mentioned the possibility of a West Coast venture with Skims, who could provide the veteran conditioner with a late Christmas present should she pursue the Grade 1, $300,000 American Oaks on December 26 at Santa Anita. He said Sunday morning that Celestial City, “could also be a possibility” to ship cross country for the Grade 1, $400,000 Hollywood Derby on December 3 at Del Mar. McGaughey captured the 2004 Hollywood Derby with Phipps homebred Good Reward at the now-defunct Hollywood Park.
Bred in Kentucky, Celestial City is out of the Malibu Moon mare Lunar Evening, a half-sister to Grade 1-winner Hymn Book.
Emory A. Hamilton’s homebred Pleasant Passage worked a bullet half-mile in 47.63 seconds over the Belmont inner turf on Saturday morning. The daughter of More Than Ready, who captured the Grade 2 Miss Grillo on October 1, is targeting the Grade 1, $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on November 4 at Keeneland and will likely ship to Lexington, Kentucky on Saturday, according to McGaughey.
Also, on the work tab with Breeders’ Cup aspirations was West Point Thoroughbreds and Woodford Racing’s Battle of Normandy, who will pre-enter the Grade 1, $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. The son of freshman sire City of Light went a half-mile in 50.03 over the inner turf. He was a last-out seventh in the Grade 2 Pilgrim on October 2.
“I pre-entered him in the Breeders’ Cup. I don’t know if he’ll get in or not, but we’ll see,” McGaughey said.
NYRA Press Office
Photo: Celestial City makes the grade in the G2 Hill Prince (Chelsea Durand)
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