The following is excerpted from "The Kid;" by Pete Axthelm; Bantam Books; June, 1978; 243 pp .
. . . Admirers of the art of race riding can claim that the jockey is, pound for pound, the finest of all athletes. He must have the strength and guile to control an animal 10 times his weight and the courage to face possible bone-crushing catastrophe every time he breaks from the starting gate. He needs a keen sense of timing, split-second reflexes and an ability to communicate with his mount . . . that task demands formidable skills, and the race rider is a formidable little man.
"I was working at Latonia in 1965 when somebody told me to come out to Walton (Ky.) and look at something unbelievable," (racing officials Frank) Tours recalls. "I was skeptical but I went. And I saw this tiny kid handling a thoroughbred in full gallop . . . I never forgot the name Steve Cauthen after that. You don't forget a kid five years old who looks that good on a horse."
. . . In the first month after he burst into the big leagues, Cauthen became the subject of a series of catch-phrases. "You're getting a five-pound apprentice allowance," Lenny Goodman boasted to the trainers who were alert enough to begin using Steve after his arrival in New York. "But you're getting an old rider along with it" . . . The trainers agreed. "The kid is 16 going on 35," said one. "Natural ability is one thing. But I've never seen such a case of natural knowledge" . . . It wasn't natural, of course. It had merely been acquired in a natural way.
"I'll never forget it," Doc (a professional horseplayer) still says frequently. "You can talk about the kid's rides on Johnny D. or Affirmed or any other horse, but he'll never do anything as extraordinary as he did with Monsi. I can see it to this day - the kid moving with that way only he has, so fluid, so relentless, just grinding down whatever's in front of him . . . when you're betting against him," says Doc, "the kid is poison. Pure poison."
"Among all the assets that Steve Cauthen brings to a race," says outstanding New York trainer phil Johnson, "the most remarkable may be the consistency of this approach. No matter how slow or cheap or troublesome a horse may be, Steve acts as if, for at least that moment, the horse is the most important one he's ever been on. If he's ridden him before, he remembers little idiosyncrasies that order riders forget. If not, he's studied the horse in the Racing Form. That attitude can be awfully gratifying to the owner who's paying the bills on some horse. Steve makes a man feel that he's getting his money's worth. He never acts like a given race is just another ride around in a circle for him."
If texbook-style learning was all there was to it, every kid who was ever born small and interested could presumably reach out for what Steve has found. But only he has ever accomplished so much so quickly on horseback, and so he is entitled to that one mist-shrouded, intensely personal region into which even the shrewdest of his horsemen friends cannot really venture. The quality of genius is supposed to have some mystery about it.
Soon the glamour of the Cauthen phenomenon even penetrated (New York's) green-trimmed OTB shops: people who usually expressed their love for the Sport of Kings in high-sounding words like, "Gimme the C horse," began to murmur with regularity: "I want whatever the kid is riding. He's a meal ticket."
"The kid is a genuine throwback," (handicapper Pat) Lynch concluded, "Modern tracks are hard and fast, and the premium today is on speed. The Latin riders, in particular, are always trying to use their horses' speed to get the jump on their fields. Everything in riding today is go-go-go. Nobody wants to sacrifice position in a race just to save a horse for the finish. It's too risky. It can make them look bad when it doesn't work. The only one cool enough to do that consistently is Shoemaker." Lynch shook his head in amazement. "And now this kid."
In the early morning quiet of the Churchill Downs stable area, someone asked trainer Laz Barrera perhaps the silliest question of Kentucky Derby Week, 1978: "Are you worried about entrusting your Derby horse to an 18-year-old who's never ridden in this race before?"
"Worried? You kidding?" Barrera snorted and twisted his darkly handsome face into a grimace. But then he smiled and answered patiently. "Maybe some people still don't understand. Steve Cauthen is no 18-year-old. He's an old man. Sometimes he makes me believe in reincarnation. Maybe he's had another life, where he was a leading rider for 50 years. That's how much he knows about his business."
"Do you think (Affirmed) could have run a better race, Steve?" asked somebody who didn't understand.
For a moment, the kid looked puzzled. Then the joy flashed in the brown eyes. "What do you want?" Steve Cauthen said softly. "He just won the Kentucky Derby."
. . . The two cameramen jostled for position in the walking ring (after a 1977 race), began shouting at one another. Cursing, they almost came to blows. Steve watched them and allowed stand him - even his approach to ridhimself a smile. His reaction could have summed up his feelings about the injury, the apprentice allowance, the people who doubted or didn't undering racehorses.
"Be patient," the kid said quietly. "It's a virtue."