Steve Cauthen is a former American jockey, who became the youngest rider to win the American Triple Crown in 1978. He came to the UK a year later beginning associations first with trainer Barry Hills and later Sir Henry Cecil. In a 13-year spell, he took British racing by storm, winning all the British Classics as well as 36 races at Royal Ascot before his return to Kentucky in 1992.
This week he will be back at Royal Ascot for the first time in 25 years and he’ll be sharing his thoughts exclusively on his experiences of riding there as well as looking ahead to Tuesday’s racing.
A Unique Occasion
I don’t think I had any idea at all what Royal Ascot was like when I first came across to the UK in 1979. Firstly, the level and variety of racing, and then of course the pageantry – seeing the Queen arrive in her carriage up the middle of the racecourse everyday – it’s an amazing thing. I was in awe of the whole situation.
For me Royal Ascot week was a culmination of a lot of great races all piled into one week. Every year you don’t come up with a horse that is going to have a chance in the Derby, but every year, if you were riding for a good stable you would come up with a horse that had a chance of winning a race at Ascot.
I’d say I probably looked forward to Ascot more than anything else, because of how unique it was. You felt good walking into the stands, putting on your silks, all the ceremony, the people wearing beautiful clothes. It was a very exciting atmosphere.
I grew more and more to appreciate everything that was involved in making the week happen. It’s probably as good a week of racing as there is anywhere in the world, it’s top notch.
From the US to Australia and Japan, every owner and trainer wants to be here and just to have a runner is kind of an honour. I don’t think people in the US knew too much about Royal Ascot in the 80s, but I started winning some races and I’m sure it got reported. Horse racing people knew what it was, but not everyone generally, until Wesley [Ward] came along and started winning races.
When I’m watching the St James’s Palace this week, I’m sure I’ll be remembering Horage, and then Paean in the Gold Cup. Memories of my time there, but I’ll be also appreciating the guys riding and how they’ll be feeling when they win. Obviously for guys like Frankie [Dettori] it’s just adding on to their count of winners, but somebody will probably win their first race at Ascot, and I’ll remember how I felt when I did it and have an idea of what’s going through their mind.
I had a lot of great moments but winning the Gold Cup on Gildoran in 1984 for Barry Hills stands out. It was my last year with him, and I’d agreed that I was going to go to Henry Cecil’s, so to win it for Robert Sangster, who’d brought me over, and for Barry who had been such a great friend and mentor was very special. Sue Sangster led the horse in and she was overjoyed. It’s a memory that I’ll never forget.
Returning to Ascot
I’ve only been back to Ascot week once since I retired. From memory that was in 1997, so it’s about 25 years since I’ve been to Ascot. I’ve heard a bit has changed – there’s a new stand and whichever way you turn you have to have a badge, otherwise you can’t get through! I know the racing hasn’t changed though, because I’ve continued to watch that on telly over in America. I’m very excited to be heading back there this week.
The Queen Anne might have been one of the races that I didn’t win. I know Baaeed is undefeated, and William Haggas is having a great season. He’s odds-on and on the face of it nothing should beat him, but it’s Ascot and all his rivals are nice horses. You can come here with the best horse in the world, but it doesn’t always work out. I remember a Niarchos-owned filly that won twice at the Breeders’ Cup that was beaten at odds of 1/9 at Ascot.
The desire for US trainers to come and run at Ascot is all down to Wesley Ward. It’s no easy task but he’s done such a good job other guys are starting to think maybe I can do it. George Arnold or ‘Rusty’ Arnold as he’s known in America is a top-notch trainer and his horses have been in very good form.
Late September ran fourth first time up and then broke his maiden at Churchill Downs last month. If he can break well and keep up the gallop then you never know, but Aiden O’Brien has a strong record in this race and Blackbeard might be the one to side with.
I know Golden Pal has never done well when he’s come to Europe a couple of times before, but the horse looks amazing. Now that it’s going to be top of the ground, I’d say that he’s going to have a big chance. It’ll be cool for Irad Ortiz to ride at Ascot for the first time. He’s a great rider, but it’ll be different and nothing like he’s used to.
I was down at Charlie Hills’ yard last week and Australian trainer Chris Waller was there with his horses. Nature Strip is a big, strong good-looking horse. The international element makes it so interesting but also hard to pick winners, because the form is so diverse.
Godolphin weren’t around when I was riding, and one of the issues was that Sheikh Mohammed had his horses spread across nearly 40 trainers. That was one of the big challenges for me riding.
Godolphin have strong horses this year, and Coroebus looked good when beating his stablemate Native Trail in the 2000 Guineas. He’s another that looks to be tough to beat, but again, no race at Ascot is easy to win.
Juan Elcano won this race last year and he looks to have been targeted at it again, so I can see him being there at the finish.
Handicaps at Ascot are always tough to win. Henry [Cecil] would often have a horse for them, but sometimes I couldn’t do the weight as you often you had to be pretty light. Ascot was pretty tough, there would always be one or two rides where I had to do light, and it would be the time my weight would start to go haywire.
Ryan Moore has been riding well and he should have a strong chance on Bring On The Night in the Ascot Stakes. The Copper Horse handicap looks another tough one, but you often need a Group horse to win a race like this and Frankie [Dettori] and John & Thady Gosden should have a chance with Stowell now he drops in class.