When Steve Cauthen watches Affirmed race, it is usually from behind the chestnut colt's braided mane, with dirt clods and the curses of other jockeys flying through the air. But last Sunday afternoon at the $195,300 Santa Anita Derby, Cauthen was dressed in a brown suit instead of black, white and flamingo silks. He sat in a box seat and watched Laffit Pincay Jr. ride Affirmed to a whopping eight-length victory, a victory that kept Affirmed neck and neck with Alydar on the road to Churchill Downs. The time for the mile and an eighth was 1:48 on a track officially rated "fast," but slowed somewhat by recent rains.
Cauthen was a spectator instead of a rider because he lost his appeal of a suspension for an interference foul in a six-furlong sprint March 9. He was suspended by the Santa Anita stewards for five racing days starting March 15. That meant he would have missed riding Affirmed in the $65,100 San Felipe Handicap on March 18.
Cauthen got a stay from Superior Court Judge Arnold Miller and rode in the San Felipe, but last week the California Horse Racing Board upheld the stewards and sat Cauthen down again, this time making him miss the much more lucrative Derby.
Finding a new rider was not a difficult task for Trainer Laz Barrera because every jock on the grounds was panting for the chance. Pincay had won aboard Affirmed at Hollywood Park once, and Angel Cordero Jr. had ridden him twice. Barrera and owner Louis Wolfson decided to flip a coin and Pincay won.
As for Affirmed, there was little evidence that even a heavyweight wrestler on his back would have made much difference. His main opposition figured to come from Balzac, a son of Buckpasser, who was the best 2-year-old based in California last year, and Noble Bronze, who had won the $155,000 California Derby four weeks before.
Affirmed broke well, shared the lead into the first turn, took it for good in the backstretch and won, as Pincay said, "with plenty left." Balzac was second.
"This horse has every chance to be like Secretariat," said Pincay. "He does absolutely anything and everything you ask of him." Jorge Velasquez, Alydar's jockey, saw the race and was impressed by Affirmed. "I don't know what he beat today," Velasquez said, "but he certainly did it easy enough."