Relatively speaking, McGaughey slept in Sunday morning, on the day after Sunday Silence beat Easy Goer for the third time in four races, assuring trainer Charlie Whittingham's colt of horse-of-the-year honors by acclamation. When McGaughey finally appeared at his barn, he looked and talked like a man who had won two $1-million races but still saw the glass as partly empty rather than partly full.
McGaughey said that he would have traded the Breeders' Cup victories by Dancing Spree in the Sprint and Rhythm in the Juvenile for a victory by Easy Goer in the $3-million Classic. Sunday Silence, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but loser to Easy Goer in the Belmont Stakes, hung on under a masterful ride by Chris McCarron to beat McGaughey's colt by a neck.
"I can't fault the track, but my horse didn't run his race 100% because the way he ran was so spotty," McGaughey said. "Sunday Silence had a perfect trip and we made a couple of mistakes. You have to be able to overcome the things that happened to us sometimes."
For at least the fourth time he rode Easy Goer--including twice in victory--Pat Day was criticized for the way he handled the horse. McGaughey indicated, however, that he would make no jockey change next year when Easy Goer resumes his career as a 4-year-old.
"Pat and I agree that he made riding mistakes in the Preakness," McGaughey said. "But in the other races, there were circumstances that contributed to what happened."
There were two points in the Classic that hurt Easy Goer, McGaughey said. The horse tried to lug in shortly after the start and had trouble negotiating the far turn, when Easy Goer was trying to cut into Sunday Silence's lead.
"You need to have position when you run against horses like this and we didn't have it," McGaughey said. "But the thing I don't understand is why my horse had his head up and was climbing when he went past the stands the first time.
"Maybe when Pat grabbed him after the start, the horse didn't understand what he was doing. Then Pat was content to sit and wait behind Sunday Silence, as he had done before, and the other horse got away from us. It took my horse a while to get to Sunday Silence."
McGaughey gave McCarron credit for a heady ride.
"McCarron's a cagey little fellow," McGaughey said. "When we got close to Sunday Silence, he opened up four or five lengths on us. It's like Whittingham has been saying: He's got a very sudden horse, he's very quick, and when Pat came up, McCarron said, 'OK, let's go.' Pat intended to go, but he couldn't get the acceleration that he wanted."
Although Easy Goer has lost a chance to be voted horse of the year, McGaughey won't concede that Sunday Silence is the better horse.
"I don't think Sunday Silence is superior," he said. "I'll accept that he's beaten us three out of four times, but I think that any time these horses run against each other, anybody can win."
Sunday Silence will also be running next year, but it's possible that the next meeting against Easy Goer won't happen until the Breeders' Cup in October.
"Where's the Breeders' Cup next year?" asked Arthur Hancock, the 50% owner of Sunday Silence.
Told that it would be run at Belmont Park in October, Hancock said: "Good. That will give Sunday Silence a chance to vindicate himself."
Easy Goer's only victory over Sunday Silence came in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont. Sunday Silence has won twice at 1 1/4 miles and once at 1 3/16 miles.
Sunday Silence will be flown to California, either today or Monday, where after a rest Whittingham will start preparing him for the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap in March. Although Easy Goer is nominated for the Big 'Cap, McGaughey doesn't like to ship horses out of New York and he said that the colt could go for Belmont's handicap triple--the Suburban, the Metropolitan and the Brooklyn--in the summer.
Hancock is a Kentucky breeder, but he agreed with the suggestion by his partners, Whittingham and Ernest Gaillard, a retired surgeon from La Jolla, that Sunday Silence stay on the track next year. Another horse owned by Hancock, Goodbye Halo, ran poorly Saturday in the Breeders' Cup Distaff and will be bred next year, probably to Mr. Prospector.
"The smarter thing to do would be to send Sunday Silence to stud, because he'll never be more valuable than he is right now," Hancock said. "But it's a short life, and we'll never come up with another horse like this."
Whittingham repeated Sunday what he said about the Classic, that Sunday Silence is the best horse he has trained. The trainer said that Ack Ack, the horse of the year in 1971, is his second choice. With more than 500 stakes winners, Whittingham could compile a complete list of top horses that would stretch from here to California.