Sport

Born to ride

STAN FISCHLER March 7 1977
Sport

Born to ride

STAN FISCHLER March 7 1977

Born to ride

Sport

There’s a lot of Canada’s Sandy Hawley in 16-year-old Steve Cauthen. For one thing, he has veteran horseplayers at New York’s Aqueduct betting on him, instead of his horses. Bettors have been doing the same thing to Hawley for years. For another, at his present pace, Cauthen may not have too long to wait before he rides his 3,000th winner, a feat Hawley accomplished on December 4, 1976. But Hawley was 27 when he did it. Cauthen might make it with years to spare. Cauthen is the Wunderkind jockey of 1977. Ron Turcotte, the New Brunswicker who steered superhorse Secretariat to a triple crown, says: “Steve has a very deceptive style. He’ll give you a lot of false fades. For example, he’ll look like he doesn’t have a chance—once he faded three times—but he’ll come from behind and win.”

Win appears to be Cauthen’s middle name. By February 24, he had run up an incredible 116 wins at the Big A, 12 more than his nearest competitor. Turcotte, had last year at this time. As a result, Steve has become the most-talked-about jockey since Hawley left Ontario and conquered California. Indeed, says Ron Turcotte, Hawley and Cauthen have similar styles, although “Hawley started out when he was about 18. It’s hard to believe that Steve is only 16.” Ironically, Cauthen’s age could be his worst enemy. What if he suddenly grows to halfback size? “1 remember a Canadian jockey who once blew a career that way,” says Turcotte. “He broke in almost as young as Stevie. But a few years later he was six feet tall! My guess is that it won’t happen to Cauthen. Stevie is fine-boned.”

Cauthen’s biggest problem so far has been with the New York State labor department. Technically, his employers were in violation of the child labor laws. Warnings were issued, but on February 14 Cauthen got his working papers and kept right on winning.

He came to New York after learning about horses in Walton, Kentucky. “I started riding when I was 12,” says Cauthen. “There always seemed to be horses around us. My father is a blacksmith back home and my mom is a licensed trainer. I knew when 1 was 12 years old that I wanted to be a jockey.” He sat on his first horse at the age of one, saw his first Kentucky Derby two years later and, at age 14, already was studying films of the great jockeys—Turcotte, Angel Cordero Jr., Braulio Baeza and Jorge Velasquez—many of whom he now regularly beats. Cauthen broke in at River Downs, a minor-league park in Kentucky, then moved on to Saratoga in upstate New York last summer. After one look, jockey agent Lenny Goodman knew Cauthen was a winner. “I liked the way he sat on a horse,” says Goodman. “There were some intangibles about him that were all on the plus side so I did something I rarely do: I took on an apprentice.” Goodman is glad he did. “The kid is in a

class with Hawley, Turcotte and Baeza.” The few remaining skeptics suggest Cauthen is simply a hot “bug boy”—as an apprentice, he gets a five-pound weight allowance—who may lose his Midas touch. “I’ve heard people say he’s nothing but a fluke,” Turcotte says. “Don’t believe it. He’s not going to lose it because the kid has talent. Watch the way he handles a horse, the way he drives along the rail. That’s not being hot, that’s being good.” Pat Lynch, a New York Racing Association executive, agrees. “This kid is more of a horse rider than a race rider. He gets on some of those tough old claimers, and they run better than they have in years.” By mid-February the five-foot-one, 95-pound Cauthen had scored 106 victories in 41 days, surpassing the mark of 105 in 50 days set by Johnny Longden, a hall of famer, on the Pacific coast in 1952. Earlier, Cauthen erased the apprentice record of Bill Shoemaker, the winningest jockey in racing.

Days blur by for Cauthen. In a normal week, he will complete his Aqueduct work on Saturday afternoon, drive to nearby Kennedy airport where he jets to Santa Anita, in California, to ride on Sunday. Cauthen then grabs a return flight so that he can be back at Aqueduct on Monday morning. Cauthen’s patient, low-to-thehorse riding style was imbued by his mother, Myra, and his father, Tex. “When Steve started,” says his father, “he had a tendency to get his rump up a bit when he got near the money at the wire. Now he rides awfully flat—butt down, back straight—and has all the power there to move with the horse.”

The Cauthen cool occasionally is erased by the Cauthen craze. The more he wins, the less his chance for privacy. “It kind of bugs me,” he admits. “I don’t mind if the reporters come around before or after the day’s racing. But not in the middle, while I’m trying to work.” Cauthen makes his work look simple. “Let’s face it, I love to ride horses and even though I put in a long day 1 get to bed by 9 p.m. I’ve got enough sense to look after myself. And the horses, too.”

STAN FISCHLER