Meet the Cauthens - a horseracing dynasty
By Frances Karon
At the end of a shady road in Walton, Kentucky, in the land that time is just beginning to remember, sits the farmhouse that saw the scraped knees of Tex and Myra Cauthen’s three children: Steve, Doug and Kerry. As his nickname suggests, Tex is a transplant from Texas, while Myra was raised on a horse farm in Kentucky.
He was a very good blacksmith, and she was a successful racehorse trainer. On paper, the boys’ parents are as unflashy as Storm Cat is flashy, but their simplicity stops short of their minds. Those gears are always turning. Any pedigree expert will tell you that theirs is an A++ nick.
It has been 30 years since Steve garnered three Eclipse Awards in the U.S. as the first $6-million dollar man when he was still a boy and nearly that long since he rode Affirmed to win the 1978 Triple Crown. In the interim, Steve won classic after classic in Europe and was champion jockey in England on three occasions. These days, Steve owns Dreamfields Farm, a breeding and training facility in Northern Kentucky, living in removed harmony but frequently appearing to lend his support to a good cause. Doug, three years younger than Steve, is President and CEO of WinStar Farm. Kerry is the managing partner of Four Star Sales and Doug’s junior by six years. Doug and Kerry, both attorneys, also have high-profile roles in organizations aimed at improving and uniting the Thoroughbred industry.
The Cauthens are remarkably approachable, and you never would guess there was anything out of the ordinary about them from their demeanor. Walk around England with Steve, however, and you can get an idea of what it must have been like for this private family thrust into the eddy of rock star fame. Shameless bragging is not a Cauthen trait and they are reluctant to discuss their own accomplishments, but talking about each other’s successes is okay.
What are your first memories of each other?
Doug: When Kerry was first born, Dad got Steve and I cigars and said, “Smoke it.” It took three days to smoke and I’ve never had any interest in a cigarette since. That’s my first Kerry memory! I was six.
Steve: My first memory of Kerry was when Mom told us that she was pregnant. Remember when Mom said, “I’m having a baby?” And we wheeled her around in the wagon. That lasted a day.
Myra: They were going to take really good care of me, yeah. For one day! Then they forgot all about it.
Tex: The day before she had Kerry she was out in the barn up on the ladder putting up boards on the wall. We had an old boy working here and he just couldn’t understand how anybody could do it.
Myra: We finished the last stall.
Tex: And then he was born.
Myra: It was like I couldn’t have him until I was done.
Doug: One of my great memories of Steve is…
Steve: You can’t tell the giraffe story!
Doug: This was one of many educational experiences that I got.
Steve: That’s why he went to law school!
Doug: I had gone to the zoo when I was in like kindergarten and I was all about giraffes and rhinos. So something got broken in the house and Dad’s method was, “Hey, who did this?” Steve broke it – of course!
Steve: Dad said, “I’m coming back in a few minutes. You guys decide, I want you to tell me what happened when I get back here.”
Doug: Nobody fessed up the first time and he gave us five or ten minutes to decide.
Steve: He left us down there so I said to Doug, I said, “Look, there’s no point in both of us getting whipped. Why don’t you take this one and it’ll be my turn next time?”
Doug: I didn’t want to do it, so he said, “Well I’ll give you a giraffe.” He figured that was my soft spot. I said, “Are you sure you have a giraffe?” and he said, “Yeah, yeah I’ll get a giraffe.” I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.”
Steve: He took the fall.
Doug: I took the fall and I went out to look for my giraffe. I was like, “Where is it, which barn is it in?” and he says, “Oh wait, I have to go get it.” He comes back with a little stir stick…a plastic cocktail stir stick.
Steve: It’s been a great thing for us all these years. Memories…
What’s the most important thing that your parents have taught you, that’s stuck in your mind all these years?
Steve: For me, it was just to find something that you like to do and to work hard at it. They taught us not to be afraid of work.
Kerry: That’s a good one.
Doug: That’s pretty good.
Kerry: Can we all adopt that one? They gave us the best examples of how to live a good, honest life.
Steve: And to treat people like you want to be treated.
Kerry: No matter who they were, they always treated everybody equally.
Steve: To this day, when you run into people everybody knows my mom and dad. And they have nothing but good stuff to say about them.
Doug: It ties into what you said, but Dad and Mom always told us to keep busy and work hard. When things aren’t going right, when you’re down in the dumps, things aren’t going exactly like you wanted, get up and get doing something.
Steve: The other good thing is, too, that we always knew we had a home, we had a place to come back to, to heal our wounds. That’s part of growing up, things going wrong, but you always knew you had people you could talk to that would love you no matter what. One of the things that I think helped me in the Triple Crown, especially going into the last race, was that I knew whatever happened I had support from my family, whether I won or lost or even if I screwed up and lost it wouldn’t have mattered. That’s a very comforting thing, to know you’ve got a good support system behind you.
Steve talks about having a home to come back to. You still live in the farmhouse in which you raised your boys.
Myra: It was a good place to grow up. That’s why we moved here. Been here 42 years, and we’ve been working on it ever since we bought it. Tex is fixing the cellar door right now, I’m working on the flowers. We’ve still got a couple of horses.
Tex: The boys used to build these forts up there in the barn with tunnels through the hay.
Doug: And Steve fell out of a hayloft.
Kerry: Right into a wheelbarrow full of manure.
Kerry: So you can call him lucky. Mom didn’t miss stride, she launched herself out of a window to get to Steve.
Myra: Doug came in screaming, so it was the logical thing. That was funny, he landed in the wheelbarrow. He must have been walking on the board across the loft. He was probably about 10 or 11.
How were your life experiences different?
Doug: Steve was truly a big brother and unfortunately I lost him when he went away and started riding.
Myra: When he started going away, it was more difficult. It was…stressful. But it also was wonderful. It was good, it was very good, just a totally different life than the peaceful life here. Which was fine with me – peaceful, that is. It was a great thing, Steve enjoyed it and it was certainly nothing I ever thought was going to happen. I thought he would be a good rider, but…
Steve: When I went to New York, Dad went up with me. Of course, he still had to make a living, these guys were still growing up, he had to run the farm. So after four or five days he dumped my ass in a hotel room and said, “Bert Sonnier will take care of you.” For a month I was living like that. Then luckily Chuck Taliaferro sent his stable up there, because it’s no fun living there by yourself that far away when you’re that young. You have to grow into what comes your way. And as it was in my career things just fell the right way for me. I was lucky when I went to England; the first people that I rode for were Barry and Penny Hills and they were fantastic, they basically treated me like I was their son. Whenever you have success there is a ton of people that are involved. There’s always a lot more than one person, for sure.
Myra: Steve would get homesick for a long time but we were always going over to see him.
Doug: We’re really lucky we don’t hate him because if we did, because, “Hey, how’s Steve?” is the first question anybody asks. I think it just broadened our experiences, to get to go to England and South Africa and all different places. When I was 15 I worked in New York, we lived together one summer. I wouldn’t have gone and worked there if it hadn’t been for Steve. I’d have worked at River Downs, which I’d already done, but to get to go to Belmont Park and work for Dr. Jim Prendergast and trainers like P.G. Johnson and Laz Barrera was great. Later in England, Clive Brittain.
Kerry: This was a problem, being six years younger, they used to go on all these fun trips. They’re over in South Africa and we had the coldest wind chill in Kentucky in the last recorded 75 years. I think the wind chill was thirty below. Mom and I would go out and muck one stall then come inside and warm up for half an hour. Then we’d go back outside and muck one more stall, come back inside and warm up for half an hour.
It must have been difficult to see your oldest child leave home so young.
Tex: That was one of the hard things I had to do, trying to decide whether he should ride or go to school. It looked like he could ride some so we took a whack at that. We took some time off and spent some time with Steve and there’s many questions in choices but I stayed here and kept doing what I was doing and helped him and helped Doug and Kerry when I had the opportunity, still do. Because you can always use help, regardless of whether you’ve got a good job or a bad job.
Myra: It was hard. It was really hard. But we did go up and see him. And we talked to him nearly every day. The whole thing was hard for me. It was just, trying to keep your balance. It was unbelievable…
It’s well documented that you slept in a sleeping bag the night before Affirmed’s Kentucky Derby, Steve. How did that happen?
Steve: I don’t even think it was a sleeping bag. I just slept on the floor. I might have had a blanket.
Tex: There were two beds. Mom and I had one, Doug and Kerry had the other.
Steve: If I had wanted to sleep in the bed I think they probably would have let me but I just wanted to get a good night’s sleep. I don’t really even remember but I think it was self-inflicted.
Now, I love this, the Derby winners’ circle photo with 9-year-old Kerry in the way, taking his own picture!
Myra: That was a great day. Kerry and the camera… We had to kneel down because of the photographers and I thought, “Boy this is weird! Are we kneeling down for the horse?”
So then Kerry just walked out there and started directing everybody?
Tex: He told Steve, he said, “Smile.”
Steve: That was Kerry back then, he was already running things. That night at the Wolfson’s dinner party, Kerry walked up to Mr. Wolfson who told him, “Kerry, we’re really proud of your brother. He sure did ride a great race for us.” And Kerry said, “Mr. Wolfson, anybody could have won on your horse.”
Kerry, I remember you telling me about Mom visiting Steve in England and Tex having to cook beans for you and Doug every night.
Kerry: What do you mean, having to cook beans every night? That was all he could cook.
Doug: Beans, or stir-fry or sardines and crackers.
Kerry: And the response, if the beans were too salty, was, “Well fine, then go cook your own.”
Doug: “If the beans are too salty, you’re the new chef!”
Do you eat beans anymore?
Kerry: About once a year or so.
Doug: But not sardines.
So Doug and Kerry, what made you go to law school?
Doug: I did a lot of the groundwork and made my mistakes – all the mistakes I made, I short-circuited so he didn’t make them.
Kerry: He wants that in print so bad! That’s what he’s been telling everybody.
Doug: I took all these different paths to make it back to the horses. The main reason that I went to law school was that I’d seen a lot of people that did other things in life but had law degrees and thought I could add a skill set to separate myself from other people that were in management, then as a safety net if the horse business went to hell it was something that I could do. Thankfully, it’s been a great training because in the horse industry you’re doing tons of deals, tons of contracts and above all else you’re trying to avoid problems. I think law school teaches you to think of the possibilities and maybe avoid deals going wrong because you’ve thought about it in advance and worked it out.
Kerry: And I followed the path of the mighty and the righteous! One of the reasons why I went to law school is, see Dad had a basic theory that he taught us all from about age 2 on probably – as soon as we could understand English he was teaching us, now, if I teach you how to muck a stall, at the very least you could earn a minimum wage and be a stall mucker all your life. So when I went to law school I figured alright, I’m raising the bar, at least I won’t have to muck stalls.
Steve: He only paid five bucks a week, too!
Doug: Four bucks!
Steve: Four bucks, that’s right.
Doug: You gave me a dollar to do yours.
Steve: I guess I had a lot of law qualities myself!
Tex: People go through the normal problems in life. Early in life people tend to start making their own choices. And they might listen to you if you say this is a terrible choice, but basically they figure it out. Doug figured out about going to law school and so Kerry followed him, and that got them to where they’re at. The getting there wasn’t as forthcoming quite as quickly as Doug thought it might be.
What do you think about where the industry has been going?
Myra: Steve’s success is a gift that was given and at the time, thank God, it did lift racing somewhat. Now it needs another lift. It needs something else. But there’s always exciting things happening in racing. I just don’t think people love their horses the way they did then. It’s so much more commercial.
Tex: I think it’s changed an awful lot, because of government, primarily, and more money that’s gotten into the business. Like always, good horses will have value and I think it’ll unfold as it should. All you have to do is realize where it is unfolding and go with it. Real good horses are hard to find. It’s a lot of fun if you get one. I think you’ve got to work out some way of what you’re going to do with the horses that don’t fit what they were bred for. And certainly some of them’d make good riding horses, jumping horses, they have a place but what could you do with the ones that don’t have a place? So I don’t know. Those things concern me but I’m convinced that it’ll turn out alright at the end of the day when they get all these brains figuring out what to do.
Steve: It changes every day. This is a tough business. I was a jockey obviously, and now I’m into the breeding side and I’ve been doing this now for almost ten years. It’s given me a great appreciation for owners and breeders, because unlike the jockey who gets off one horse and gets on the next you rely on what the mare does, you breed, you produce, and you have to try to make a living out of what you produce. I’m one of the lucky ones because I’ve got these guys, they’re both really closely involved. Doug looks at zillions of horses, and Kerry does, and they help me try to make a better decision about what to breed to and different things. But even so, you can have the greatest breeding in mind and it doesn’t work like you think it will. Obviously on the grander scale of where racing is going it’s like everything, when you get overproduction, too much supply and not enough demand, it’s tough for it to work. I’ve still got a lot of optimism that things are going to hopefully get better. I think that Kentucky racing should be the best in the country. Seems to me that the government could help try to boost up an industry that’s so vitally important to the state.
Doug: I have a lot of optimism for it to actually become a very viable business across the board if certain things happen. We have to have Magna and Churchill get together like they are at least starting to do with the TV programs and you’re going to have to be able to bet from your phone, from your computer, from wherever – you’ve got to get the product everywhere. Every person whose kid’s name is Alex should have been betting on Afleet Alex, just for the fun of it during the Triple Crown.
Kerry: There’s a lot of people out there trying to do positive things, but every time you try to make a positive step there’s 20 people who want to say you should have done it a different way. I worked on the Breeders’ Incentive Fund and you couldn’t imagine the number of fights. A lot of times people don’t realize that what they have in common is far greater than what’s not in common. It’s much easier to focus on the differences.
Doug: I’ll brag on Kerry a little bit. The Breeders’ Incentive Fund would not have happened in a positive way, I don’t think, without all the work that he put in, hundreds of hours understanding it, getting the records, creating his own database to understand how the money could and would be split up and then bringing the people together to get the solution, and there’s also his involvement in CBA (Consignors and Commercial Breeders Association) and KEEP (Kentucky Equine Education Partnership), probably the two most important organizations that have been formed in the last couple of years to get people to the table so disagreeing opinions can come up with a direction instead of just throwing arrows. He’s also on the Kentucky Racing Authority and has had to deal with all kinds of different dilemmas there. Kerry’s people skills and his ability to mediate and negotiate have been great. I’m proud of what he’s doing. A lot of it’s behind the scenes. People see him at the sales but with the workload that he’s taken on, he’s owed a huge debt because that’s a pain in the ass, especially the political side. It’s nice to be proud of your brothers. And your parents. But overall, we’re fighting so hard so we’ve got to improve our platform. It appears people that have the power to do that are trying to and if that doesn’t happen we’re in position for a real correction because there is overproduction, there is too much.
Steve: More than that is the steady decline of the whole business. You’ve got to be able to compete.
Doug: The product has to be fun and exciting. At Keeneland the product’s great. I’m happy to see the ten cent bet, I’m happy to see Trakus; Keeneland’s becoming a test market for a lot of good things and I hope they keep doing it. But even there, I’d like to see continued, different and simpler betting opportunities. In Australia, if you’ve got $20 you can bet the trifecta with that $20 split between eight horses, it’ll fractionalize the bet instead of having to have it exactly. Simple things like that are smart moves.
Tex has his own brand of sayings, or Texisms as we call them. What are your favorites?
Doug: When someone comes up and says, “Hey Tex, you are looking good,” his kidding response is, “You can’t kill bad grass.” Translation: “I’m lucky to be here.” It’s all self-deprecation, which I like about Dad. He’s done a lot, but he’s always humble, in a humorous way. A lot of his Texisms are like Yogi Berra’s – they are so obvious or even sometimes conflicting that we have to laugh about it. Like Yogi would say “It ain’t over till it’s over,” Dad comes up with similar ones, unintentionally of course which makes it a bit fun for the rest of us to tease him about!
Tex: They’re always giving me stick about the way I talk.
Kerry: I like, “You’d complain if they hung you with a new rope.” No translation needed!
Doug: If we are working on a project, let’s say raking up leaves in the yard, one of us might say, “Boy, this is taking a long time to do all this work.” Dad would respond, “It’s taking long enough to finish,” or something like that. And when someone says, “How are you, Tex?” he’ll say, “I’m on the right side of the grass!” Translation: “I’m alive and well, good to see you, too.” A lot of Dad’s phrases are really interpretable to a common theme: “I’m so lucky to be here, and I’m thankful to God.” He’s always instilled that in us. We didn’t always hear it or listen as we grew up, but we come back to it and realize how right he is. He’s a very spiritual person, really. And he’s a great role model. We are all lucky to have him, and we are thankful to God for every day he’s with us.
Of what are you most proud?
Tex: Being able to raise a good family and make a living shoeing horses, doing something that I like. I enjoyed it. And doing what I thought was the honorable thing. I’m feeling very fortunate because we’ve built a family together that works relatively well. Some of it’s from effort but sometimes you put a lot of effort into something and it doesn’t happen.
Myra: Our life has been a good life. I’m grateful. From the bottom of my toes! I am.