A friendship with Greg Burchell, the son of a trainer, led the Lexington, Ky., native into racing. He worked for Burchell's father, John, and four other trainers before landing with Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas in January 1985. McLaughlin stayed with the powerful Lukas operation through February 1992 when he became the agent for jockey Chris Antley. He represented Antley until November 1993 then accepted an opportunity to train for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashad al Maktoun in Dubai. For the next 10 years he split the year between Dubai and New York, training for Sheikh Mohammed and his brother Sheikh Hamdan. McLaughlin was the leading trainer in Dubai four times. He returned to the U.S. to open a public stable in New York, and Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud and Sheikh Hamdan's Shadwell Farm have remained his two biggest clients. McLaughlin was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998. He trained 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor and champion Lahudood. His many graded stakes winners include 2006 Belmont Stakes winner Jazil, It's Tricky, Soldat, Flashy Bull, Daaher, Henny Hughes and Mustanfar.
Among McLaughlin's 2013 trainees is Incognito, a Darley homebred who ran in the 2013 Belmont Stakes.