SI Vault
Clive Gammon
July 09, 1979
Can a jockey from a Kentucky hamlet find happiness among the toffs of England? You bet your boots he can
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July 09, 1979

Look There, Luv, It's Young Stevie

Can a jockey from a Kentucky hamlet find happiness among the toffs of England? You bet your boots he can

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Now who can this young sophisticate be, at his ease in the lobby of the Chequers Hotel, Newbury, Berkshire, England, where the armchairs are deep and leathery and the walls are hung with portraits of long-dead stallions? Notice, please, the precise barbering, the suede-finished breeches, the beige sweater that whispers cashmere at 10 paces.

Ah, he has found his friends. Golf, it seems, will be their diversion this summer morning. They load their clubs into the trunk of his customized Capri. Time to be leaving for the Newbury and Crookham Golf Club, where ancient oaks shadow the greens. Nine leisurely holes before lunch. Life has many compensations these days for Steve Cauthen, Esquire, late of Walton, Ky., residing at present in Lambourn, Berks.

To anyone who had been exposed to the 1977-78 model Steve, the one that featured monosyllabic responses and a just burgeoning awareness of the social graces, the new one, completely redesigned by Robert Sangster, comes as something of a shock. As does the suggestion, to Englishmen who have known him only since last spring, that he was ever anything but urbane and outgoing.

It would be only a mild exaggeration, indeed, to say that Cauthen is America's most popular export to England since the first cartons of Spam arrived in the darkest days of World War II. Typical is a comment by a white-mustachioed ex-military gent in the royal enclosure at the recent Ascot races. "Cauthen?" he barked. "Fine young man! Fine ambassador for his country! Makes up a bit for that bloody fella McEnroe!"

Steve Cauthen has matured dramatically in his few months in England, and maybe the best witness to this is Bill Shoemaker, who was there to ride in the Epsom Derby. "Steve has grown up here," he said. "He's become a man."

Maybe it would have happened anyway in the nature of things. But this sudden maturation must also owe a lot to the careful stage-managing and nurturing that the young jockey received from Sangster, the wealthy English horse owner who signed him to a contract reportedly worth $400,000 to ride for him during the English flat (as opposed to steeplechasing) season running from late March to November. English jockeys do not normally have agents, but Cauthen clearly needed one. What he got was more an agent-cum-adviser and confidant: Jimmy Lindley, an ex-jockey of some repute in Europe who now writes a column for the Daily Mail and plays an Eddie Arcaro-like role on BBC-TV.

Lindley, a sharp, astute man, saw to it that Cauthen was taken out to dinner with such respected English jockeys as Joe Mercer and Greville Starkey, as well as Lester Piggott, possibly the world's greatest jockey and another of Sangster's riders. Piggott, Sangster says, was so alarmed at the news of Cauthen's coming that for the first time in his career he insisted on a contract himself. It gave him first pick of horses trained by Vincent O'Brien, Sangster's No. 1 trainer, leaving Cauthen to ride for Barry Hills, the junior man, so to speak, in the Sangster racing organization.

Lindley took care of such details as the hiring of Cauthen's valet, a popular ex-jockey named Des Cullen. who also attends to Piggott's riding kit. "That kicked him off to a good start in the weighing rooms," says Sangster, and that good start, among fellow jockeys, was essential. When Cauthen arrived in England, there were protests from native jocks over his obtaining a work permit—some Englishmen had been refused permission to ride in the U.S. But Cauthen's entrée into the English racing world was managed so deftly that such protests were few and muted.

Sangster had another selling job to do. The English racing public had to buy Steve Cauthen, potentially a tall order. It is a highly knowledgeable public: all the newspapers, for example, devote considerable, sometimes massive, space to racing coverage, and gambling on horse racing is far more general than it is in the U.S. The lady with her hair in rollers investing a little of the housekeeping money at the corner betting shop is an archetypal figure. If Cauthen was going to progress from the suspicious appellation "That Young Yank" to a warmer "Stevie," it would be mostly on account of the lady in the betting shop.

The setting in which Cauthen was to make his debut was the April meeting at Ascot, near London, perhaps the most elegant of English racetracks. Bad going there, however, caused the racing to be transferred to Salisbury, a small country track. That Saturday, April 7, the heavens opened. A monsoon deluged the record crowd. The stewards' car bogged down in the mud. A less auspicious debut would be hard to imagine.

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