No horse has won Triple Crown since 1978 but legendary American jockey Cauthen feels he is ready to relinquish his title
I'll Have Another can 'capture their hearts'
Steve Cauthen is ready to pass on the baton. Famed throughout America as the last jockey to secure the Triple Crown, the former rider is right behind I'll Have Another's bid in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
There have been 11 horses to have failed to add the Belmont to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes since Cauthen rode Affirmed to victory as an 18 year old in 1978.
After narrow verdicts over Bob Baffert's Bodemeister in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, I'll Have Another, ridden by Mario Gutierrez and trained by Doug O'Neill, has become the latest to stand on the threshold of sporting greatness.
I'll Have Another's task has been made easier by the fact his nemesis has not been declared by Baffert for Saturday's race over a mile and a half.
Cauthen believes it is time American racing was given a new champion. "I'm ready to pass it on, especially to what seems like a great team," the 52 year old said.
"I've been impressed with Doug O'Neill and Mario Gutierrez seems like a great kid.
"I admire his confidence and his relaxed attitude and his gratefulness to be in the situation that he's in. I'm rooting for him 100 per cent. I'm thinking that they've got a great chance and I hope it all goes well. I think the whole racing world is just dying to have another great horse come along and capture their hearts."
Cauthen knows a great horse when he sees one.
Affirmed aside, the Kentucky native moved to Britain in the 1980s where he struck a rich seam of success when he teamed up with Henry Cecil, who at the time was training for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
He built on his Triple Crown success with the fillies' version in England on Sheikh Mohammed's Oh So Sharp in 1985.
That was just the start.
He added to those wins by sporting Sheikh Mohammed's maroon and white silks when riding the filly Pebbles to a victory over the colts in the Eclipse Stakes in the same year and was still at the top of his game when guiding Old Vic to wins in the Irish and French Derbies four years later. And having watched I'll Have Another over the past few weeks, Cauthen is convinced there are similarities between Affirmed and the similarly coloured chestnut colt who lines up in New York in four days' time.
"I'll tell you what I love about him - he really has a lot of try in him," he said.
"You can just tell the way he dug in, in the stretch at the Derby and particularly in the Preakness. He's not afraid of a battle and I think that is the best thing he's got going for him. He's a very relaxed horse like Affirmed was. Nothing seems to bother him. These kind of horses look after themselves."
If Cauthen has no qualms about the ability or temperament of I'll Have Another, he also believes strongly in Gutierrez.
The 25-year-old Mexican rider was virtually unknown when O'Neill picked him for his maiden ride in the Kentucky Derby, which he won from Bodemeister by a length and a half.
Gutierrez has little knowledge of the Belmont track, either, and Kent Desormeaux, the last jockey to attempt the Triple Crown in 2008, was ungracious enough this week to say the rider's inexperience would be his downfall.
Belmont is an idiosyncratic track by the generic standards of American racecourses in that it is a mile and a half in circumference.
Four of the past seven Belmont Stakes have been won by jockeys having their first start in the Grade 1 contest, however, and Cauthen was adamant, Gutierrez needs only a racecourse sighter to be effective.
"I've been very impressed with his demeanour, his attitude and the way he couldn't have ridden the horse any better in both the Derby and the Preakness, and I see no reason why that won't continue," he said.
"The track's wider, the turns are so much more sweeping, and just to know where you need to start thinking about making a move it would be easy to get ahead of yourself if you hadn't ridden a few races there.
"From what I understand they're going to let him ride a few races first and I think that will probably be very adequate. I'm sure he'll do great."
It may be hard to believe that Cauthen is ready to relinquish his record - after all his ferocious competitive streak resulted in him becoming one of the most successful and precocious riders of all time, but the whole Affirmed team are supporting I'll Have Another's bid.
"He really loves to run and looks like he wants to win," Patrice Wolfson, the breeder and owner of Affirmed, said.
"He looks like he would be a good successor if it comes about. There were times I didn't feel as though we were ready to relinquish it, but maybe the time has come now, and I certainly think racing needs a horse that will bring a lot of excitement and this little guy can do that."