Wednesday, May 02, 2001

Star rider will be Derby spectator

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        VERONA — Steve Cauthen will be in the grandstand — not the paddock — Saturday.

        “It's the Derby. I'm a Kentucky boy, so it's always important to me,” says the Hall of Fame jockey who now raises horses on his farm in Northern Kentucky.

        When he was 18, Mr. Cauthen made racing history when he rode Affirmed to victory in the 1978 Kentucky Derby, went on to guide the 3-year-old thoroughbred to the Preakness and Belmont winner circles, and became the last and youngest jockey to ever capture the elusive thoroughbred racing Triple Crown.

[photo] Steve Cauthen raises horses at his farm in Verona, Ky.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        He grew up in a family that raised horses, so dreams of Churchill Downs were his from an early age.

        “It was great to come back (to Churchill) at the young age of 18 and win the race. That was the only time I rode in it (Derby), so the only memories I have are good ones,” he said, “It's a special time.

        “I'm very proud of everything that happened in 1978 with me and Affirmed,” he said. “It was the perfect five weeks in anybody's life. We had a great team.”

        It's time for a horse and rider to do it again, he said.

        “Everybody would like to see another great horse come along and win the Triple Crown,” he said. “The sport is doing fine, but as with everything, this sport is made of hopes and dreams. Sometimes people get disillusioned and say there won't be another Triple Crown winner. It takes a great horse and a lot of good fortune.

        “But it's almost happened three times recently — I think Silver Charm (in 1997) had two tough races and was beaten by a horse that was fresher on that particular day (at the Belmont).”

        After his Triple Crown performance, Mr. Cauthen established himself over the next 15 years as a champion rider, both in the United States and in Europe. A two-time Eclipse Award winner, he left the United States to ride in Europe in 1979.

        He retired in 1993 with just under 3,000 victories and was inducted into horse racing's Hall of Fame the following year. Now 41, Mr. Cauthen remains the only jockey to win all three American classics — the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes — and all three English classics — the Two Thousand Guineas, Epsom Derby and the St. Leger.

        Seven horses have completed the Derby-Preakness double since Affirmed. They all came up short in the Belmont, including Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and Charismatic in 1999.

        Mr. Cauthen owns a horse-breeding operation in Verona and is part owner of a 2-year-old filly, Sweet Affirmation, sired by Affirmed. Affirmed was euthanized in January because of his health.

        Does he think about one day saddling a horse for the Kentucky Derby?

        “Sure, I think about it,” he said with a chuckle. “I do have dreams. That's what I started with in 1972 as a rider. I never really imagined I would ride in the Derby or win it, but without those dreams why would we be in the game?”

        Mr. Cauthen still manages to attract attention when he visits Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, which doesn't happen every year.

        “It's not like Michael Jackson being there, but people do recognize me,” he joked. “There are a lot of racing people who already know me at the Derby.”

        He admitted that “I'm usually interested in just the race, not all the other stuff, and you can actually see it better on TV. But I saw Point Given in March (at Santa Anita) and I'd like to see him again.”

        And, he just happened to get a call from a friend “who has some pretty good seats, on the third floor of the grandstand.”

        “So I decided to go this year.”

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