CINCINNATI -- This time last week, a large segment of America was eagerly awaiting the June 7 Belmont Stakes race to see if California Chrome, the American Thoroughbred bred in California, could make thoroughbred horse racing history and win the coveted Triple Crown.
While it is good for the sport that was so good to him, a Triple Crown contender posed a unique dilemma for Steve Cauthen. The last jockey to ride into the record books 36 years ago on the back of Affirmed, Cauthen has to view a horse that wins the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with a certain amount of trepidation as the third jewel loomed.
On the plus side it meant heightened awareness of and interest in the Sport of Kings. Conversely it meant open season on Cauthen as he presided over his equine domain in Walton, Ky. Reporters from around the world descend, seeking wisdom from the now 53-year-old sage, who stunned the racing industry at the age of 18.
Cauthen wears the mantle and responsibility to inform the uninformed with the grace of a champion. He is one of the most genuine, serene people I’ve met over my career. He’s not a world famous Triple Crown jockey, he is Tex and Myra’s boy who happened to have a way with horses. And people.
My favorite Cauthen moment occurred an ocean away in 1993. While planning a trip to England I sought out Cauthen's advice on places and things to do in the U.K.. He had after all been the toast of the continent when he migrated there in 1969 to ride for the Robert Sangster racing syndicate. For the record, he went on to achieve every honor European racing had to offer, including British champion jockey three times, winning English classic races 10 times over 14 years. By virtue of that, he was a major luminary and had developed a network of well-heeled friends and associates. And so it was that Cauthen directed me to pay a visit on his friend Johnny Gold, proprietor of Tramp, a private, members-only nightclub in central London.
As my friend Abbe and I prepared to head out for our rendezvous, I asked the hotel concierge if Tramp was within walking distance? He looked at me as if I’d requested directions to Mars.
“I’ll spare you the possible embarrassment sir. Tramp is a very exclusive establishment. Members only.”
I assured him that the owner was expecting us, a claim he viewed with obvious skepticism.
“Very well. If you insist," as he ushered us to a taxi.
The driver then picked up the theme when I told him our destination: “Tramp isn’t open to the public sir. It is a private club. I can take you some place where they’ll let you in."
But by now our interest had been greatly piqued. It was Tramp or bust.
That driver must have been mystified when no less than Johnny Gold himself greeted us upon arriving. Who were these Yanks that Gold greeted them at the front door? They didn’t look famous. But Gold couldn’t have been more deferential. First and foremost, he was curious as to the well-being of “my dear friend Stephen?”
He and his staff treated us on par with his surname. Obviously a connection to Cauthen, no matter how tangential was as we discovered at several stops during our stay, a passport to first-class treatment.
A person who can invoke others to impart hospitality and courtesy to total strangers a continent away is indeed a man of consequence.
And so it is that I’m not terribly disappointed that Cauthen’s achievement still endures as the coin of the racing realm for another year.
It provides another year for another generation of reporters the chance to avail themselves of Cauthen’s unfailing good manners and hospitality. A man who has left his mark not just here but literally around the world.
It is a privilege to know him and his family.
Dennis Janson's "My 2 cents" column is published every Monday and Wednesday on WCPO.com. His video commentary airs every Friday at 6 p.m.