‘A gift from God’ – Doncaster-born coal miner’s son Hugh McMahon on the verge of 1,000 winners in America

Horse Racing Hugh McMahon trainer
Hugh McMahon: Doncaster-born trainer is on the verge of 1,000 career winners in the US. Photo: Maryland Jockey Club

By David Joseph/Maryland Jockey Club

USA: Jockey-turned-trainer Hugh McMahon, the son of a coal miner from the north of England, is closing in on a career milestone as a trainer in the US.

Doncaster-born McMahon, 52, is five away from his 1,000th career victory after going winless with two starters on Saturday’s Halloween programme at Laurel Park, where he is based.

He has been a steady presence among Maryland’s leading trainers, mainly in the claiming ranks, since going out on his own in 2011, and was the state’s overall win leader in 2013.

“I don’t have anything that I haven’t received – nothing has really originated from me,” McMahon said.

‘I don’t want to own it for myself’

“Any accomplishment I have, I don’t want to own it for myself. I think it to be a gift from God and a team effort from all of us here to facilitate it.”

McMahon has horses entered in two of Sunday’s eight races – two-year-olds Trial Balance and Optimo in Race 4, a maiden claimer sprinting 6f, and sophomore gelding Sojourner in Race 5, a 7f claimer event for three-year-olds and up.

Trainer Talk with Hugh McMahon on HRRN Podcast in September 2017

In a year abridged by the coronavirus pandemic, McMahon has 28 wins from 182 starters with $845,216 in purse earnings, and is four-for-13 with two seconds from 13 starters during the current calendar year-ending fall meet that began on October 8. He has topped the $1 million mark each of the past nine years, with highs of 166 wins and $3.981m in 2013.

McMahon was introduced to the sport by watching the races on television with his father. He was encouraged to become a jockey and attended the Northern Racing School, worked for Frankie Durr in Newmarket and rode in Belgium before moving to the States at the age of 22.

He went on to ride 59 winners from more than 950 mounts. In 2005 McMahon became an assistant to trainer Scott Lake, at the time running one of the biggest operations in the country. The prolific Lake hit a career-best of 528 winners in 2006.

‘We gathered as a group and we prayed in the shedrow’

McMahon worked for Lake until 2010, at the same time saddling 108 winners in his own name starting with Flying Retsina Run at Pimlico in June 2005.

“I was fortunate enough that I was an assistant to Scott Lake, which was a significant education because he had something like 300 horses at the time,” McMahon said.

“When he removed the string of horses here, we needed employment. We gathered with the grooms as a group and I said, ‘some of you believe and some of you don’t’ and we prayed in the shedrow – and we’re still here today.”

McMahon won 98 races the first year on his own and followed with seasons of 146, 166 and 108 wins from 2012-14. He won individual meet titles at Laurel’s 2013 winter and fall stands and shared its 2014 winter crown, and has also been the leading trainer at Timonium and Colonial Downs.

Ranked third overall in 2012, McMahon’s 74 wins led all Maryland trainers in 2013. His first big horse was Don’tgetsuspicous, who he inherited from Lake and trained to 10 wins, three in stakes, and $324,817 in purse earnings from 28 starts from 2010-12.

“One thing that horses know, and they know it in every language, is care,” he said. “If you have that ingredient of care, caring for these horses, that is the most fundamental necessary ingredient for horsemanship.

“They know that one significant thing. If you’ve got a bunch of people that care about the horses, they care for the horses. We’ve been very blessed over the years. I can only be in a place of thankfulness.”

• Visit the Laurel Park website

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