Johnny D., a 10-to-1 shot, won John D. Schapiro's 26th Washington D.C. International yesterday at Laurel.
He had intelligent help. The $200,000 1 1/2-mile turf classic figured to be a jockey's race - there was no early speed in the field of eight - and 17-year-old Steve Cauthen turned out to be THE jockey. Cauthen moved smartly to take the load from France's Crow going to the far turn, quickly moved out to a daylight advantage - and the race was over.
The victory was the first for the United States since the 1972, following four French frolics and reduced the foreign horse's edge in the global gallop to 14-12.
Majestic Light, another U.S. entrant, finished second, failing by 2 1/2 lenghts to overtake Johnny D., which led by six length on the stretch turn. Exceller, the 3-to-2 favorite from France, took third money, 14 lengths behind Majestic Light.
Johnny D. paid $22 straight after completing the 12 furlongs of soft going in a slow 2:42. The winner and Majestic Light, the 5-to-2 second choice, formed an $81.20 exacta.
"Mr. (Mike) Kay (the horse's trainer) said he'd like Johnny D. to law third or fourth early, cause he doesn't like to be on the lead, he gets a little rank," Cauthen commented. "They were just jogging around the first turn, so I sent him up with Crow, on the lead, I turned him loose at the half-mile pole, hit him a couple of times in the lane and that was it."
Sounds simple, doesn't it. But it's not. While Cauthen was going about the business of winning $120,000 for Dana Bray Jr., an Albany. N.Y. businessman, the jockeys on Majestic Light and Exceller were playing cat and mouse, helping Cauthen make off with the big cheese.
Angel Cordero, on Exceller, and Sandy Hawley, riding Majestic Light, were far back in the pack while Johnny D. floated on the lead. Exceller never did fire. By the time Majestic Light did, it was too late.
Young Mr. Cauthen, some $5,000,000 richer at the tender age of 17, showed yesterday he not only is one of America's best jockeys but that he also is one of the smartest.
"Everything depended on how Steve timed things, and he timed everything perfectly," Kay said later. "We hadn't beaten Majestic Light or Exceller in the Man o War or the Canadian International, so I didn't expect to be favored. But I always thought we had a chance. When the morning line had us 20 to 1 the other day, my knees buckled."
The trainer's biggest worry, as things turned out, was whether Johnny D. would be invited to the International.
"I didn't think we would be," Kay acknowledge. "As it was, we were the last one in. We'd been invited on a conditional basis if we finished first or second in the Man 'O War or in Canada. We were third both times, losing second by a nose to Exceller at Belmont Park."
Johnny D. is a 3-year-old bay gelding by Stage Door Johnny out of an Olden Times mare. He is a big, gawky horse - "kinda related to the moose family, in looks," Kay admits - who once ran for a $40,000 claiming tag.
His early history is interesting.
"I got him to train in December, when I was first starting out on my own," Kay remarked. "He was a second going three-quarters. Then two weeks later, he won by five, jogging his beat, on the inner track at Aqueduct. Then the owner took the horse away from me."
Johnny D. was given to a veteran trainer, to be raced in Florida.
"I got him back in February," Kay said. "Everything's been fine since."
For many years Kay served as an assistant to Elliot Burch, who saddled three International winners for Paul Mellon's Rokeby Stable. Kay learned well, obviously. He learned an intelligent jockey may be worth many lenghths in a route race when the horses are evenly matched and there is no pace. Yesterday, in the 26th International. Cauthen helped make Kay look absolutely brilliant.