Almost 35 years to the day after his memorable Kentucky Derby victory aboard Affirmed, Steve Cauthen will step onto the grounds of Churchill Downs Saturday in the role of legend, celebrity and handicapper.
It was May 6, 1978, when Cauthen and Affirmed launched their unforgettable run to history's 11th Triple Crown, beating Jorge Velasquez aboard Alydar by just inches at Churchill Downs. They followed that decisive Derby win with a Preakness victory and then the Belmont Stakes as the 18-year-old jockey became the youngest in history to win the Triple Crown.
Now 53, Cauthen owns his own Thoroughbred breeding farm where he lives in north central Kentucky and comes to Louisville Saturday on behalf of Derby Experiences (www.derbyexperiences.com), the Churchill Downs initiative which brings fans into Louisville with customized packages of travel, accommodations, tickets, tourism attractions and amenities for the week of the race.
"The great thing about 1978 was that you had two horses that showed up for all three races at their best," Cauthen told the media in pre-Derby interviews. "And it was just such a great duel."
Cauthen is asked all the time why no horse and jockey have been able to win the Triple Crown since his run 35 years ago.
"The 70's was a decade of great horses and they were tough," Cauthen continued. "Maybe back then there was a little bit more stamina in a lot of pedigrees.
"But the fact is, they were just a special, special bunch of horses," he continued without having to mention Seattle Slew, who won the Triple Crown the previous year under Jean Cruguet.
"I am surprised a little bit, but at the same time I also realize how difficult it is. It takes a great horse and you need everything to go right. You need good luck and training. It's hard to say why it hasn't happened, but you need a great horse and the stars need to align a little bit for you in the preparation for each of those three races."
Cauthen is part of the marketing initiative Derby Legends (www.derbylegends.com), a partnership among he and prominent former fellow jockeys Cruguet, Pat Day, Laffit Pincay and Ron Turcotte. Derby Legends offers speaking engagements, endorsements and other opportunities around those renowned horse racing personalities.