His given name is Claude R. McGaughey III, not that anyone uses it much, especially himself.
In the same spirit as musical superstars such as Cher, Madonna and Sting, the Kentucky Derby-winning trainer goes by only one name.
Just call him Shug.
Say Shug around the racetrack, and there isn’t a single person who doesn’t know him, or know of him, going way back before his victory 11 days ago at Churchill Downs.
This morning, amid the flurry of questions about his horse, Orb, the feeling of winning the Derby and the prospect of a victory in Saturday’s Preakness leading to Triple Crown glory, Shug was asked about his unique, and distinct, moniker.
“I grew up with it,” he said. “I’m the third, so they had to call me something. That’s what they came up with.”
Shug doesn’t know where the name came from, not that he hasn’t tried to find out.
“I’ve never really had kind of a definitive answer from anybody, like ‘Well, this is why we did that,’” he said. “But, it wasn’t Sugar. They have told me that.”
Born and raised in Lexington, Ky., the 62-year-old Shug, speaks slow and easy with a familiar drawl and amazing recall of horses and people during nearly four decades in the horse business.
He attended the University of Mississippi , but dropped out after his junior year to keep his job as a groom for trainer David Carr.
“I was going to school and just kind of piddling around,” Shug said, “probably piddling around more than going to school.”
That led to assistant jobs with Carr and David Whiteley before going out on his own in 1979. Six years later, he was named trainer of the Phipps family stable, and what has followed is a Hall of Fame career that is still going strong.
Nicknames are common around Shug’s barn. His childhood friend and assistant for the past 25 years, Earl Tenney, is known only as Buzz.
Though he has never gotten an answer for the origin of his nickname, Shug hasn’t spent much time thinking about it … until he’s asked.
“There’s not anything I can do about it. I’ve had it for 62 years,” he said. “My whole life I’ve been called that. It’s fine with me.”