Goodwood, with its patchwork of rolling fields shimmering through the heat haze, always strikes you as a more suitable vista for a Constable canvas than a backdrop to one of the country's leading racecourses. Steve Cauthen recalls his own first impression of this idiosyncratic examination for the thoroughbred. "When I first saw the course it freaked me out," recalls a man who had been familiar only with the left-hand orthodoxy of American tracks when he arrived as the famed Kentucky Kid back in 1979.
Stevie Wonder - inevitably, another of the many epithets he acquired - didn't require long to adjust to the Sussex course, nor indeed to Britain's other racetracks, despite their unique characteristics. "It took me maybe three years to get on level terms with all these guys who had been riding here all their lives, jockeys like Lester [Piggott], Pat Eddery and Willie Carson," he reflects. "Once I did, it was a great challenge. I loved it.
"When I first arrived there was a lot of garbage in the press [principally about the reputation that preceded him, Cauthen having already won the Triple Crown on Affirmed and a record $6.2m in one season as a 17-year-old], but the other riders realised I was just a guy, come to do a job. By the time I left, I hope I added my own legacy to British racing: making the running at certain places, kicking at the right time, nicking races here and there." He pauses, then adds: "Doing whatever I did that worked."
Modesty forbids him to detail his true talents: he was an instinctive rider, with a natural affinity with horses; he was an athlete; and, like Piggott - whom he describes as "the iceman, probably the toughest I ever came across" - a superb assessor of pace. The fact that Cauthen departed a three-times English champion jockey and rider of 10 English Classic victories confirms not only those qualities but how well the Kentuckian had adapted to this alien environment.
He returned for his first visit in a decade last week, supporting Four Star Sales, a group of Kentucky breeders, who sponsored the Richmond Stakes. The company, for whom his younger brother Kerry also works, intend to sell yearlings later in the year at Newmarket.
Cauthen is now 43 and, since his retirement in 1993, has married Amy and sired three daughters. On the equine front, he has his own breeding establishment in the Bluegrass State, something he had planned since the day he rode the first of 2,794 winners worldwide in a 17-year career, back in May 1976.
"The whole time I was riding, people may have thought I was sitting around doing nothing out of the saddle, but in fact I was studying breeding and trying to learn about conformation: those important factors about what made a good racehorse. I tried to look at horses and maybe a little bit into their soul," he says. "One day maybe, I'll be sitting here having bred a Sussex [Stakes] winner, or another top-class race [winner]. That's my dream."
Yet Cauthen concedes that, given the opportunity, he would still relish the opportunity to challenge Kieren Fallon and the Irishman's contemporaries today. Yes, even here at Goodwood, where he broke his neck in 1988 when thrown from a filly.
"If I got fit, physically and mentally, I'd be just as good as I ever was," says Cauthen, who was first enticed here by the owner Robert Sangster. He rode principally for the Barry Hills and Henry Cecil yards, and then as Sheikh Mohammed's retained jockey.
"It's just that I'm not willing to live that kind of life," he continues. "My natural weight is 10 stone, but I was trying to ride at 8st 7lb, and had to be 8st 4lb stripped to do that. In the old days, when I was riding, I could fit my fingers around my legs and wrap 'em over. That's how skinny I was. But I had to starve muscle off my body to get my weight down. In the end, I was worried that physically I could damage myself long-term."
And mentally? You remind him of the fate of Fred Archer, the champion jockey who committed suicide. "I read his book and at times I got depressed, like he did, because that's what it does to you. Whether you're purging yourself by not eating, sitting in a sauna for six hours a day, or taking laxatives... all that crap is part of being a jockey. Eventually, I said, 'You've done everything, now it's time to live a life'. I had other plans and I had no regrets."
Cauthen, who after the most successful year of his career, 1985, went into an alcohol dependency programme in Cincinnati but denied he was an alcoholic, adds: "After racing, I wasn't a guy who liked to go home and sit by myself. If you won a big race, owners would say, 'Hey, come on. Let's take you out to dinner,' but I had to turn them down. That was so frustrating. Sometimes, though, I didn't care. I refused to be shut in. But if I did, I'd suffer afterwards by having to lose the weight."
Apart from memories of the 1985 season, in which he won the Derby on Slip Anchor and the fillies' English triple crown on Oh So Sharp, he took other much-prized recollections back home with him. "I was riding for people like the Sangsters, Lord Howard [de Walden], Jim Joel, and others, who all became part of my life," Cauthen says. "They were people I was able to go shooting with, go hunting with, whatever. That was all part of the magic for me."
- More about: