The reviews on the 26th Washington, D.C. International were unanimous: rave notices for the kid. Steve Cauthen, on Johnny D. and considerable criticism for two celebrated crackerjacks. Sandy Hawley on Majestic Light and Angel Cordero Jr. riding Exceller.
Their respective positions after the mile of the 1 1/2 mile $200,000 turf event told the story. The pace had been tediously slow, :28 and 3/5, :55 3/5 1:20 4/5 and 1:48 3/5 in soft going. Cauthen had Johnny D. on the lead with Crow at that point while Hawley and Cordero kept eyeing each other eight lengths to the rear.
"That," Cauthen said later, "is when I decided the time and come to let my horse run a little." Johnny D. drew out to a six-length lead on the stretch turn and was never seriously threatened by Majestic Light, scoring comfortably at odds of 10 to 1.
Cauthen had never ridden Johnny D. before.
"Jorge Velasquez, who had ridden him for me in the Man o' War and the Canadian International, had a commitment to Rokeby Stable for the Ladies Handicap Saturday in New York," trainer Mike Kay say yesterday. "I would have liked to have Jorge back, but I understood Rokeby had 30 or more horses. I have 12, I understood."
Velasquez had piloted Johnny D. to third-place finishes behind Majestic Light and Exceller in those two races. Kay was satisfied with the performances. But he knew what qualities he was looking for in an international rider.
"The comment in the graded handicap in the trade paper probably would say, 'Needs careful handling,'" Kay commented. "I wanted someone who could sit and rate and be patient. Two names immediately came to mind, (Bill) Shoemaker's and Cauthen's.
"I did try to get Shoemaker. I called California. He wasn't available. So I went after Cauthen in a hurry."
Cathen, invariable, is compared with Bill Shoemaker. There are veteran writers who would have us believe Shoemaker was as good at that age as Cauthen is today. I doubt it, I doubt it seriously. I doubt there ever has been a 17-year-old jockey to compare with this youngster out of Waltion, Ky., who threatens, in this season, to become thoroughbred racing's first $6 million man.
Anyone who has been at Laurel the last two weekends has been treated to everything they might want to know about Cauthen. In the Futurity, riding Affirmed against Velasquez on Alydar, Cauthen sealed off the outside and forced Alydar to make his run between horses in the early stretch.
Then, in as beautiful a stretch duel as Maryland fans have seen in decades. Affirmed outgained Alydar by a neck.
Saturday in the International, Cauthen was perfect. It was totally aware of the composition of the field and rode accordingly. He probably moved a little sooner than Kay had suggested, which was good. If ever a jockey's ability contributed greatly to a victory, the 26th International was a classic example.
Steve Cauthen - he has to be the athlete of the year in the United States in 1977.