Lost and Found Presented By Horseware: Teen Phenom Cauthen Back To His Roots As All-Around Horseman

by | 01.08.2020 | 3:23pm
Steve Cauthen at Churchill Downs, November 2019

Four decades removed from his sensational jockey career, Steve Cauthen lives the life of a typical Thoroughbred insider in his hometown of Verona in Northern Kentucky.

Best known for capturing the 1978 Triple Crown aboard Affirmed, Cauthen had established himself as a potential superstar in his first full year as a jockey in 1977. He was honored for that season with three Eclipse Awards—outstanding apprentice and journeyman and Eclipse Award of Merit.

Other accomplishments in his 15-year career include Racing Hall of Fame induction, being featured on covers of Sports Illustrated (which proclaimed him 1977 Sportsman of the Year) and Time magazine, being champion jockey in Europe, where he spent the second part of his career so he could participate at a higher weight, and being voted 1984 George Woolf Memorial Award winner by his fellow riders. His rise to celebrity status is eloquently chronicled in Pete Axthelm's 1978 book The Kid.

After retiring from the saddle in 1992, Cauthen returned to Verona to operate his Dreamfields Thoroughbred breeding facility and hold a position as a vice president of Turfway Park that he left around 2007. These days Cauthen blends seamlessly at the races and auctions and during mornings at the track.

“I go to watch my horses train as often as I can,” he said. “More than watching them train, I like to go to the barn to see how they look and how they act.”

Cauthen had five 2-year-old fillies in partnerships in 2019 including Churchill Downs fall meet winners Palace Avenger (with trainer Wesley Ward), Miss Imperfection (Kellyn Gorder) and Queen of Verona (John Ortiz).

He balances his own stable holdings with an array of duties including serving as racing manager for Lexington-based Dixiana Farm, buying young horses to resell, and being truly hands-on with those and other Thoroughbreds at Dreamfields. The property has 100 acres designed for horses, 40 stalls and another 200 acres of farmland.

A life filled with horses

Cauthen rises well before dawn and starts the day by drinking coffee and bringing coffee to Amy, his wife of 27 years. The couple's three grown daughters are pursuing their mother's passion for dance and fashion despite their early interest in riding.

After feeding the dogs and catching up on some news, Cauthen walks to the barn by 7:00 a.m. With eight to 12 horses on site at any given time, Cauthen has one employee for all-around chores. Cauthen enjoys grooming the horses and trims their hooves as needed, a skill learned from his late father Tex, a member of the International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame. He also learned from his mother Myra, a trainer on the Kentucky/Ohio circuit where Cauthen launched his career. His younger brothers Doug and Kerry both gained that parental inspiration and are Central Kentucky-based bloodstock agents.

Cauthen commutes to Lexington several times a week for various activities such as purchasing horse-related supplies, meeting with the Dixiana Farm team and visiting his Keeneland-based runners.

With his schedule, it's difficult for Cauthen to find time for riding, so he mixed a little business with pleasure this past spring. When Miss Imperfection was receiving her early lessons at a facility a few miles from home, Cauthen got back in the tack.

Steve Cauthen aboard Affirmed before he won the Triple Crown in 1978

“I have always enjoyed teaching young horses,” he said. “Before that I probably had not ridden in eight years.”

After dabbling in ownership through the years, Cauthen said he is having fun with his active racehorse string.

“I feel totally blessed that I got into horses,” he said. “When I started as a jockey, I was hoping I would be good enough to be leading rider at River Downs (now Belterra Park.) In just two months I was. Being a jockey took me around the world and allowed me to meet amazing people. I am still involved and I still love it. Racing has given me a great life and it brought me back home.”

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