Ask any star. Being in the right place at the right time, to be discovered by the shrewdest of managers, is the best thing that can happen to a performer.
Having talent helps and 17-year-old Steve Cauthen, a 5-1, 102 pounds, displayed tons of ability during his first full season of race riding in 1977. So much so that Sports Illustrated named the poised youngster from Walton, Ky., its "Sportsman of the Year."
But Cauthen had help. He had the best jock's agent in the business. He has Lenny Goodman.
Goodman reportedly receives 25 per cent of everything Cauthen collects. Even at the percentage it's a bargain.
So many promising young riders come to the races, and so few make the grade. Remembered are J. D. Jessop, Jackie Westrope and Wille the Shoemaker. They were brilliant young jockeys, but their first season of competition did not compare with Stevie Wonder's.
Cauthen would have been a senior at Walton Verona High School this year.Instead, with Goodman assuming the role of guidance counselor, Cauthen left Aqueduct after the program of Dec. 14 and went home for the holidays with record purse earnings of $6,048,100 in his saddle bag and 477 A's for achievement, on his report card.
"I never dreamed the kid would come along as fast as he has," Goodman said from his home on Long Island."It was only August a year ago that Tex, his father, came up to me at Saratoga and introduced himself. 'My boy's gonna ride several horses today,' he told me. 'I'd like very much for you to take a look at him.'
"Well, I looked in the past performances and I told Tex, 'Those are a terrible bunch of horses he's on.' But I watched him. He didn't get much.But you didn't have to ask why or how. You could see it. You could see it in everything the kid did on a horse. You had to like him. I had (Braulio) Baeza at the time, but it looked to me like Baeza was going to continue to have a weight problem. So I was interested."
Goodman has been an agent for 33 years. He helped guide Baeza, a Panamanian, to the top of his profession. Lenny knows an odds-on favorite when he sees one. He knew Cauthen was young, had great potential, and was as American as apple pie at a time Spanish-speaking riders dominated the New York sport.
"I'm a percentage guy," Goodman said. "I didn't promise Tex the world for Steve, I told him I thought we could win 10 races a week. We'd won 29 in three weeks in December (in 1976). "Well, the first week of this year we won five, with 15 seconds. The second we won 23 . . . and everything began to get better and better."
That was when Cauthen had "the bug," the five-pound apprentice allowance that gave him and edge over established New York riders Angel Cordero, Jorge Velasquez and Jacinto Vasquez. Some horsemen and rival agents believed Cauthen would cool off considerably once he lost that edge, at the conclusion of one year of riding, on June 28.
"That's one thing I was never afraid of, Steve's losing the bug." Goodman said. "In my business the opposition either is jealous or they're knockers. The top jockeys knew better. Baeza would tell me. This kid knows how to ride, right now."
Cauthen kept winning, except for one stretch. He missed a month's work because of a spill in which he broke a wrist and two fingers, cracked several ribs and suffered a concussion. When he came back from his first serious injury he won first time out, on a nag, Little Miracle.
By season's end Cauthen was the regular rider for two Eclipse Award winners - Affirmed, the nation's top 2-year-old, and Johnny D., the champion turf runner. His performances, under pressure, were vital to the success of both horses, as Washington-area fans know. They know, that is, if they saw Affirmed defeat Alleydar by a neck in the Laurel Futurity and Johnny D. steal the Washington, D.C. International from Majestic Light.
Cauthen quickly became the hottest property ever to hit the racing business. Everywhere he went - and Goodman took him darn near everywhere - he was instant box office. But there is another side to the Cauthen phonomenon. Outside of racing, he's nothing.
"They got Mark McCormack for him; the big agency for big-name sports stars" Goodman declared. "It wans't my idea. Well, McCormack didn't do anything for the kid.
"We have a book coming out that Pete Axthelm's doing for Bantam. But it should have been out now, at Christmas time. I don't know, but I feel if they will now make a different kind of try, the kid can be used to help sell anything: Cereal, cars, chewing gum, you name it, anything.
"What it shows," Goodman continued, "is that racing needs some pumping up. Desperately. There's no question about it. If a fresh, attractive face like Cauthen had come along in another sport he would be all over the place. But not racing, even though he's been life-blood for it, drawing an extra 10,000 fans wherever he's appeared across the country.
"New York's distraceful. What OTB's done to the sport here, and OTB didn't have to be this way.
"California's not one of the areas where racing is struggling, and that's where we're going. Steve will start riding there Monday and we'll be there until near the end of the Santa Anita meeting before we come back to New York."
Goodman has affirmed, J. O. Tobin, aAffiliate and Johnny D. lined up for Cauthen on the West Coast this winter.
"You don't give up your Derby horse (Affirmed, the early favorite for the Kentucky classic)," Goodman said. "There's also a filly out there who'll be named Mashteen. If she's not going to be a top-class stakes filly, then I never saw one.
"But you never can be sure, with racehorse; talk about fruit and vegetable being perishable! There's no sense planning too far ahead with race horses.
"Don't expect 1978 to be like 1977 for Steve," the agent said. "I won't play it that way. It's going to be a little different. The emphasis will be different (on quality not numbers). All the kid's gotta do is to do what he's been doing. It's important that he keeps winning on the second- or third-best horse sometimes, like he does. It's my job to take it from there. No jockey can carry slow horses."
There might be other problems in Los Angeles. California is Shoemaker country. Laffit Pincay and Sandy Hawley also have close, long-term connections with Santa Anita trainers. And Angel Cordero will join the Jockeys' colony there.
Then there is the gone-Hollywood temptation, with all those fast fillies who have been known to give more than one jockey's agent serious thoughts about protective custody. But Goodman doesn't appear to be worried. Nothing has stopped Cauthen on-tract and who knows, with all those television and movie studios nearby, the kid might even get a chance to do a commercial.