Welcome Back, Kid

A.P. Indy won the Belmont Stakes, but Steve Cauthen's return made it a historic race
June 14, 1992

Steve Cauthen was in a bloody rush again, as he often is around this time of year, striding purposefully through another hurried hour of his life on the road.

Last Saturday afternoon at New York's Belmont Park, Cauthen, the 32-year-old American expatriate who had just driven Cristofori to a fourth-place finish in the 124th running of the Belmont Stakes, was making another sustained move, this one through the tunnel toward the jockeys' room. He looked as if he had just fought on horseback next to Henry V at Agincourt—mud streaked the racing silks he was wearing, those of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai, and it appeared that half the Belmont track was encrusted around Cauthen's mouth and the blade of his nose. As he hurried toward the showers, he tried to explain to the colt's connections what had happened on his way to the bank. Cristofori, a French import, had finished 14 lengths astern of the victorious favorite, A.P. Indy.

"He jumped a little at the start," Cauthen said to Elisabeth Fabre, the wife of Cristofori's trainer, Andre, "but he ran well with the blinkers on. He was running very nice for me down the backside, and I thought, Something good could happen here. But then, into the second turn, he seemed to lose his momentum...."

As Cristofori loped happily along, like a camel in a caravan, the Belmont was quickening just ahead of him. Midway through the last turn, Pine Bluff, the winner of the Preakness Stakes, ran down Casual Lies and moved boldly to a half-length lead as he turned for home. But no sooner did Pine Bluff look like the sure victor than A.P. Indy, who had missed the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness after suffering a crack in one of his hooves, lowered his head and charged.

Casual Lies, feeling the sting of an injury similar to A.P Indy's, wavered for an instant and began a retreat. Then A.P. Indy went after Pine Bluff, who hung on resolutely as A.P. Indy dogged him mercilessly. Suddenly, in midstretch, Pine Bluff's drive stalled. A.P. Indy caught him as the wire loomed, sweeping to a¾-length victory in a swift 2:26 for the 1½-miles. The clocking was two ticks slower than the stakes record set by A.P. Indy's grandsire Secretariat but equaled Easy Goer's 1989 time as the second-fastest Belmont ever run. The race confirmed what many observers had long suspected: A.P. Indy is the best of the American 3-year-olds. But Pine Bluff is among the sturdiest. In finishing third—British import My Memoirs got up for second in the last jump—Pine Bluff not only won the Belmont's $91,776 third prize but also outdueled Casual Lies for the $1 million bonus that goes to the horse with the most points in a Triple Crown series.

Cristofori ran creditably, but he lacked the juice to make a race of it. As he headed for the jockeys' room, Cauthen's voice trailed off. A few solemn nods later and he was bolting past the crowds that lined the tunnel, where voices called to him, "Attaway, Stevie" and "Welcome back, Kid!"

In this way and many others, Saturday was a pleasant waltz through history for Cauthen and his fans. His brief appearance at Belmont Park was his first at that track in nearly 14 years, and his ride on Cristofori was his first in the Belmont since his unforgettable performance on June 10, 1978. At 5:45 that afternoon, as a boy just turned 18, he whipped and cajoled Affirmed to a bobbing-head victory over Alydar in what is widely regarded as the best horse race ever run in the U.S. Not only did the final charge to the wire climax a duel that had begun when Alydar moved up to battle the front-running Affirmed seven furlongs from home, but also Affirmed's final, desperate thrust at the finish made him the 11th winner of the Triple Crown and capped a rivalry unmatched in the history of the American turf. Alydar finished second in all three Triple Crown races that spring, and no horse since Affirmed has won all three.

On Saturday, Cauthen returned to Belmont Park as one of the leading race riders in Europe, an international figure whose skills as a jockey have taken him to every important racing venue in the world—from England to the Continent to Hong Kong and Australia—and made him one of the most popular riders in England. He is now the main jockey for the 500-horse stable of Sheikh Mohammed, one of the sport's most powerful owners and breeders. Cauthen's one-race swing through New York, in the company of his bride of five months, the former Amy Rothfuss of Bellevue, Ky., was but one stop in a weekend spent on both sides of the Atlantic.

Last Friday, Cauthen rode two winners at England's Epsom Downs, including a horse named Sharp Prod, owned by Queen Elizabeth II. "She's very nice," Cauthen says of Her Royal Highness. After the races at Epsom, he and Amy caught the Concorde and flew to Kennedy Airport. On Saturday morning he spent nearly two hours getting fingerprinted and photographed and filling out forms to obtain a New York jockey's license. As he raced around the grounds at Belmont looking natty in a gray silk suit, fans called out his name and wished him well, and trainers and fellow jockeys embraced him. He found a fleeting moment to inquire about the racetrack, still wet from heavy rains on Friday, when he ran into jockey Eddie Maple after the second race.

"What's the track like?" Cauthen asked. "Is it dead?"

"Not at all," Maple told him. "But it's drying out, and it's probably going to get gummy. Check it after the seventh race."

In an English accent that still has traces of Walton, Ky., in it—"He does talk funny," says his father, Tex, a Kentucky horse trainer—Steve greeted friends and schmoozed with his former New York agent, Lenny Goodman. Spotting Goodman's daughter, Ginny, he leaned over and bussed her on one cheek, then on the other. "You're so European!" she said. "Kisses on both cheeks...."

Cauthen even found time to reminisce about the old days in New York. The most vivid memory of all was of that day when he won the Belmont on Affirmed. "I can remember every step of that race," he said. "Right now. I jumped out to the front, but Alydar took me on at seven furlongs. I could hear the crowd roaring. I remember that my horse was getting a little tired and Alydar was dogging me the whole way, head and head as we turned into the straight, and I remember thinking, We have to ask for everything, and I switched my stick and hit the horse left-handed, and he dug deep and I dug deep. After the race, I remember Affirmed's head hung to the floor. He had literally given me everything.... He's still the best horse I've ever ridden."

The year before, Cauthen had won a whopping 487 races, the national riding title and a then record $6.15 million in purses, but nothing he had ever done could compare to the day he won the Belmont. It appeared then that he would rule for decades as the leading jockey in the U.S., an expectation that made his performance in California in the winter of 1978-79 all the more stunning. Still growing, Cauthen began to fight weight, and suddenly he was mired in a 110-race losing streak at Santa Anita. Worse, he also lost the mount on Affirmed to Laffit Pincay Jr. after failing to win two races on the Triple Crown winner. When Robert Sangster, one of England's leading horse owners, offered him a contract reportedly worth $400,000 a year to ride for him, Cauthen grabbed it.

So Yankee Doodle went to London town, figuring he could always come home if he didn't like life in England. "I thought it was a good time to try it," Cauthen said. "I've always ached for new experiences, new territories, new things. I didn't know if I'd be there for one month, or one year, or 20 years. I always thought I could come back tomorrow."

Cauthen first appeared in English racing silks at Salisbury, a small country track, on April 7, 1979, a day bathed in a deluge that turned the course into a bog. "When I walked into the weighing room on that cold, wet, windy day, a more miserable situation you could not have foreseen," he said. But he won on his very first mount, Marquee Universal, and that spring rode a 20-1 shot, Tap On Wood, to victory in the 2,000 Guineas, the first race in the English Triple Crown. There are some 35 flat-racing courses in Britain, few of them flat and all of them of differing shapes and undulations, and Cauthen reckons that it took him three years to divine their idiosyncracies well enough to ride them with assurance. "The courses are all unique," Cauthen said. "You have to learn where the best ground is, where it is soft, where it changes."

Cauthen has been England's top jockey three times, in 1984, '85 and '87, and in 1989 he became the only jockey ever to have won the world's four major Derbys. That year, with one victory in the Kentucky Derby, on Affirmed, and two in the Epsom Derby, on Slip Anchor (1985) and Reference Point (1987), already to his credit, he won both the Irish and French Derbys on a long-striding chestnut named Old Vic. Along the way he also became a favorite adopted son of the British sporting public. "We adore him," says Noel O'Callaghan, the managing director of the British Bloodstock Agency (Ireland). "America couldn't have a better ambassador than Steve Cauthen."

His rise was not without a price. At the end of the 1985 season, Cauthen underwent treatment for alcohol dependency—a problem he linked to the depression he felt over constantly fighting weight—and in '88, at Goodwood Race Course, he suffered a broken neck in a terrible spill that grounded him for seven months. He recovered, of course, and carried on. Last year he began riding for the sheikh. He travels all over the globe, to all the courses where good horses run, and rarely goes anywhere without Amy, whom he met when she was studying in England in '87. They were married on Jan. 4. "The companionship and the company makes my job a lot nicer," Cauthen says.

The Cauthens live in a gatehouse on an estate in Newmarket, a few miles from the training yards where he works horses in the morning for some of the leading horsemen in Britain. "Two bedrooms, no closets," Amy says. In his leisure, Cauthen plays golf and tennis and hunts pheasant. The racing season in Europe lasts eight months, from March through October, and in the winter he usually returns to Kentucky to visit family. He relishes the break, something he never had with year-round racing in America. "It suits me a hell of a lot better because of my weight," says Cauthen, who goes 115 pounds these days. "It's one thing to sacrifice and keep your weight down eight months out of the year, another thing to keep it down 365 days a year. You have to give yourself a rest, mentally."

There is no resting this time of year. Fifteen minutes after jumping off Cristofori, he picked up Amy outside the jockeys' quarters and headed for a waiting Cadillac. The Cauthens were racing to catch a 7 p.m. flight to Paris, where Steve had a mount, Marble Maiden, in Sunday's Prix de Sandringham. The weekend that began at Epsom, and detoured through Belmont Park, ended at Chantilly, where Marble Maiden finished first. The Kid is having a time of it these days.

"Since I went to England, I've never regretted what I did," Cauthen said. "I don't think I'll ever come back here permanently as a jockey. I'm happy where I'm at. There's nothing here I need that bad. I've found replacements for everything. I like coming back here, but my needs are fulfilled there. When I started riding as a kid in Ohio, I honestly thought that if I could be the leading jockey at River Downs, that would be great. Now I travel all over the world riding good horses. That is what I want to do. I'm just delighted with my life."

PHOTOJOHN IACONOAt the top of the stretch, A.P. Indy (2) started his charge past Pine Bluff and Casual Lies (rail). PHOTOBILL FRAKESA smiling Cauthen was muddied but unbowed after he came in fourth with Cristofori. PHOTOTONY TRIOLOAlydar got his nose in the picture, but Cauthen and Affirmed won the '78 Derby. PHOTOCO RENTMEESTERThe Kid really looked like a kid after winning the 1978 Preakness. PHOTOBILL FRAKESAfter the Belmont, Steve and Amy rushed to the airport to catch a plane to Paris.
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)