When Steve Cauthen arrived in Britain as a lank 18-year-old in the spring of 1979, he had already achieved more than most jockeys can hope for in a lifetime. In his first full season, 1977, he had ridden 487 winners in America and become the first jockey to win $6 million in calendar year. The following year he won the American Triple Crown – the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes – on Affirmed and was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated.
Cauthen made an immediate impact in Britain, winning on his very first ride, Marquee Universal, owned by Robert Sangster and trained by Barry Hills, at Salisbury in April 1979, but that was just a foretaste of things to come for the man affectionately known as “The Kid”. A month later, he won the 2,000 Guineas on Tap On Wood for Barry Hills, prevailing by half a length for the previously unbeaten Kris, trained by Henry Cecil and ridden by Joe Mercer.
In the years that followed, Cauthen continued to flourish under the auspices of Barry and Penny Hills, whom he later described as “like parents to me”, at Lambourn and became Champion Jockey for the first time in 1984, with 150 winners. Cauthen left Barry Hills to replace Lester Piggott as stable jockey to Henry Cecil in 1985 and so began a mesmerizing partnership that would last until Cauthen’s retirement seven years later.
In his first year at Warren Place, Cauthen won the Fillies’ Triple Crown – the 1,000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St. Leger – on Oh So Sharp and the Derby on Slip Anchor. Having won the Lingfield Derby Trial by 10 lengths on Slip Anchor, Cauthen insisted on riding him every day in the build-up to the Derby and, four days before the race, apparently told his lad, Dave Goodwin, “This is a ****ing certainty.” History records that Cauthen was right; Slip Anchor became the first horse for nearly 60 years to make all in the Derby, eventually winning by 7 lengths.
Cauthen was Champion Jockey again in 1985, with 195 winners, and won his third, and final, jockeys’ title in 1987, with 197 winners, edging out Pat Eddery after a titanic duel at Doncaster on the final day of the season. He was fourth in the jockeys’ championship the following year, despite being hospitalised with concussion after a fall at Goodwood in August, which ruled him out for most of the season, and second to Eddery in 1989.
However, by that stage of his career Cauthen, now 29, was struggling to maintain his riding weight of 8st 7lb. Nevertheless, he continued at the top of the tree until 1992 when, after a year as retained jockey for Sheikh Mohammed, the Sheikh sought to reduce his reputed retainer of £1 million per season. Cauthen retired back to Kentucky at the age of 32 with no hard feelings towards his former employer. During his career, Cauthen rode a total of 2,794 winners, including 10 British Classic winners, and had the distinction of winning the Derby, the Irish Derby, the Prix du Jockey Club and the Derby Italiano, as well as the Kentucky Derby.