his whips before the day's races, testing them. Then, carefully, one selected,
he trims it with scissors. A whip is a crucial implement, but ultimately it is
merely an extension of the hands. It is his hands that measure a jockey. "A
horse gets the knowledge through your hands," Cauthen says. "He gets
confidence in the way you use your hands." In the final strides of a close
race, the accomplished jockey puts the whip away and rides the horse a
cappella, tight to the body, flowing with him, lending him energy and the human
competitive element in ways that a whipping cannot transmit. The whole body is
intimately involved in the exercise. The thighs, the feet, the shoulders, all
pumping. But always it has been known as a hand ride, for it is the hands that
tell the tale in race riding.
are outsized, the only large aspect of his body. But they are not farm boy ham
hocks. Even with the mean scar from the Belmont spill cutting across the top of
his right hand, Cauthen's hands appear to be the fine, long instruments of the
esthete. And down to the wire, they ride a horse. Already, on the backside,
there are whispers that some of the very best riders are spooked now when they
hook the kid in the last furlong.
There is no way to
explain this magic that Cauthen has with horses. He is a natural athlete, of
course. He has the necessary instincts. He senses pace: the clock in his head.
Reflexively, he stays out of trouble. Joe Hirsch, columnist for the Daily
Racing Form, who has seen the boy ride a thousand or more races, swears he has
never once seen him make a mistake. Never.
But nothing else
matters if the jock lacks the ability to inspire the animal. That is the mystic
gift, which none of them—Shoemaker, Cordero, or the child—can explain. Cauthen
says that the horses he rides again exhibit no recognition of him on sight, but
they often do seem to remember him when he settles upon their backs. Somehow
this is revealing. Perhaps the horses sense that he cares.
want to win, sure," the kid says, "but the important thing is to get
the most out of your horse. If he runs the best he can, wherever he finishes, I
feel good—for him and for me. And when you cross that finish line first on a
horse who is not the best—and you know it—that's the greatest feeling of
There is a moment,
somewhere, when the most beautiful and accomplished part of sport turns to art.
But athletes are probably wrongly identified as artists. Rather, they are the
art, not the author of it. Julius Erving is not a poet of the basketball court;
he is a poem. As Reggie Jackson is not a drummer, but a tympani flourish:
Muhammad Ali not an actor, but a prime-time series. What more shall we say:
that Walter Payton is a brushstroke, Jimmy Connors a rousing chorus, Pel� a
hymn? And Cauthen, what is he? It is hard yet to be certain. There are times,
at the wire, when he reposes upon an easel, but other times when he seems too
lusty for that, and we think of him as a ballad:
"When all the
world is young, lad,
And all the trees
And every goose a
And every lass a