Shug, Phipps, and fillies: a racing combination that we ignore at our peril.
An incomplete list of Phipps racing females trained by Shug McGaughey: Personal Ensign. Pine Island. Inside Information. My Flag. Storm Flag Flying. Smuggler.
Need I go on? I can… (and I should have–thanks, LJK, and sorry, Heavenly Prize!)
Small wonder, then, that after the passing of Ogden Phipps in 2002, within two months the New York Racing Association re-named a Grade I race for fillies and mares in his honor. Formerly called the Hempstead Handicap, the race was first run in 1961, and its list of winners is jaw-droppingly impressive: Ta Wee (1970), Personal Ensign (1988), Sky Beauty (1994), Heavenly Prize (1995), Serena’s Song (1996), Sightseek (2003 and 2004), Azeri (2005), Take D’Tour (2006 and 2007). The owner-trainer duo of Phipps and Shug has thrice won the race, all when it was still called the Hempstead.
Ogden Phipps was born in 1908 into a family that fully participated in the lifestyle of the Gilded Age. The wealth of the Phipps’ family is nearly unimaginable; Phipps’ obituary tells us,
He was raised into a family of wealth and into the elegant life that ruled
society early in the century. His grandfather used to lease an entire railway
train to carry members of the family, their servants and pets to Palm Beach for
the winter and back to Long Island in the spring. The family once owned 28 miles
of Florida coastline between Miami and Palm Beach, as well as large tracts along
Biscayne Boulevard and much of the city of Palm Beach itself. And several times
the Phipps family was reported to have made large loans to the City of Miami
during the Depression. (New York Times)
Significantly involved in racing and breeding, Phipps bred his stallion Bold Ruler to Helen Tweedy’s Somethingroyal. He and Tweedy flipped a coin to see who’d get the first foal; he won (New York Times). Somethingroyal’s first foal was The Bride (who?). Her second was Secretariat.
The full obituary focuses heavily on Phipps’s racing interests and is worth a look. According to it, Phipps described Personal Ensign’s win over Winning Colors in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff as “a terrifying experience.”
A scion of the Phipps family, “Dinny” took over after his father’s death in 2002, serving in various leadership positions in racing and continuing the family’s racing and breeding interests; it is he who currently serves on the NYRA board and who, according to commenters Jeremy and Jeanne, was denied entrance to the paddock last Saturday at Belmont.
Claude “Shug” McGaughey has trained Phipps horses since 1985, finding success with colts as well as fillies. Easy Goer was a Phipps/Shug horse, as was the winner of last Saturday’s Manhattan Handicap, Dancing Forever.
But in honor of today’s Ogden Phipps Handicap, let’s honor the fillies, and particularly the one who beat every horse she ever faced:
Personal Ensign winning the Hempstead Handicap in 1988, on the Belmont undercard:
Personal Ensign’s Whitney, run on a sloppy track:
Watch that race and tell me with a straight face that fillies shouldn’t race against colts.
And finally, one of the great races of all time, Personal Ensign’s Distaff—never, ever, ever to be called a “Ladies’ Classic.”
And before I go: a moment of silence as we remember what happened fourteen years ago today: “The New York Rangers have won the Stanley Cup, and this one will last a lifetime!”
Photo credit: Cataffo/New York Daily News