Saturday, June 07, 2014

Triple Crown: Remembering Affirmed, the Horseshoer's Son, and the Horseshoer Himself

Whenever a big race is coming up, you'll see The Hoof Blog joyfully tweeting good wishes to jockey Rosie Napravnik. She is, after all, the horseshoer's daughter who made it to the big time. Her father, New Jersey shoer Charles Napravnik, often shows up in the winner's circle.

In fact, in the photo below of the Kentucky Oaks winner's circle when Rosie won on Untapable, you can clearly see Charlie, with his gray moustache and fedora hat, behind his daughter as she hoists the trophy over her head.

It's a lot of fun to be a Rosie fan, but she's not the first champion jockey to call a horseshoer "Dad". You'll see the original today in the Belmont Stakes coverage. He was the last jockey to win the Triple Crown.

But it occurred to me today that we should tell the story of another proud horseshoeing parent with Triple Crown ties. In fact, his ties were to the last horse that won the Triple Crown.

Above: I am sure that Tex Cauthen is somewhere in this post-Preakness winner's circle photo of Affirmed, can anyone spot him? I can see sportscaster Howard Cosell in the lemon-yellow jacket on the veranda.

It was 1978 and an 18-year-old horseshoer's kid from Kentucky would pilot Affirmed to victory not just in the Triple Crown, but over his arch-rival, Alydar. No horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed and Steve Cauthen. I wasn't around the horseshoeing world way back then, but I do remember that day.

Cauthen went from being a horse holder for his dad to winning the Triple Crown in a few short years. His father was an aspiring jockey himself when he came up to Kentucky from New Orleans. He used his track connections to get his son his first mount.

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Had the horse world ever seen a rivalry like Affirmed and Alydar? They ran down the stretch of those three Triple Crown races like they were one animal...and like there were no other horses in the race.

Ronald "Tex" Cauthen
I never dreamed that I'd come to remember Affirmed because of his jockey, or rather the jockey's father, Kentucky horseshoer Ronald "Tex" Cauthen.

Just before he died, Tex Cauthen did an in-depth oral history interview with the University of Kentucky as part of their "Horse Industry in Kentucky Oral History Project". I created a player for the recording so you can listen to it and learn about Tex and his life with horses and hooves and superstar kids. Tex died not long after this interview was done.

Note: you can also read a transcript of the interview here.

An interesting quote from the interview, discussing Tex Cauthen's decision to go the famous horseshoeing school at Michigan State University, where he learned from the great Scottish farrier, Jack MacAllan. Michigan State was one of the few shoeing schools before the mid-1960s, when the idea of private schools began with Smoky Ward's Eastern School of Horseshoeing. The other school in the 50s and 60s was at CalPoly in San Luis Obispo, California.

In the interview, Tex describes swedging out shoes for Michigan State's famous Percheron bloodstock. That's a long way from the racetrack!

SMITH: --what had made you decide you wanted to go to horseshoeing school?

CAUTHEN: Well, I'd galloped horses and I--you're getting a dollar a head to gallop 'em at that time. And the very most you could get on was twenty. So you could make twenty dollars a day, which wasn't bad. You know, that wasn't bad. But horseshoers made about a hundred dollars a day. They were getting about fourteen and a half to shoe...

The interview is long and it is slow in places, but it would be great for a long drive or some quiet time at home. You should have known this man.

PS Watch for Rosie today in the Belmont Stakes on number 10, General A Rod.

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