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WHEN ALL THE WORLD IS YOUNG
Frank Deford
December 19, 1977
Among the sports celebrities of 1977 were schoolboys and girls, a ninth-grader who was the toast of Forest Hills, an 8-year-old who made Frank Shorter blink, a playground star who led grown men a merry dance. Their wondrous skills delighted all who watched, and brought refreshment and a certain joy to big-time athletics. But of all the prodigies, none burst on the scene so remarkably or garnered as much glory as Steve Cauthen, 17, who just 12 months ago was a bug boy at a bush track and now is Sportsman of the Year.
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December 19, 1977

When All The World Is Young

Among the sports celebrities of 1977 were schoolboys and girls, a ninth-grader who was the toast of Forest Hills, an 8-year-old who made Frank Shorter blink, a playground star who led grown men a merry dance. Their wondrous skills delighted all who watched, and brought refreshment and a certain joy to big-time athletics. But of all the prodigies, none burst on the scene so remarkably or garnered as much glory as Steve Cauthen, 17, who just 12 months ago was a bug boy at a bush track and now is Sportsman of the Year.

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Cauthen inspects 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.

Cauthen's hands 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.

"You always 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 all."

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 are green:

And every goose a swan, lad,

And every lass a queen;

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