Cauthen Brings Consistent Blend to Volatile World


Doug and Katie Cauthen | Daniel Sigel


Really, nobody can demand respect. It has to be commanded. This business has plenty of people who shout their achievements from the rooftops of social media. They have done their own reckoning, and that doesn't necessarily incline the rest of us to reinforce their self-esteem. How much more impressive, surely, is the understated, week-by-week accretion of laurels by a man like Doug Cauthen.

He is always reluctant to “claim” credit for a particular horse, knowing that the fulfilment of its potential is always divided between so many different hands. Even so, during the past 12 days alone, Cauthen's counsel has at least contributed to a second consecutive winner of the GIII Schuylerville S., on opening day at Saratoga; to an outsized afternoon for the boutique program of Peter Blum, who was denied a 30-minute Grade I double by a head when Crystal Ball (Malibu Moon) just failed to add the Coaching Club American Oaks to the Haskell success of Authentic (Into Mischief); and then, on Saturday, to a Grade I breakthrough by the explosive Volatile (Violence) in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt H.

“It was very exciting,” Cauthen says. “When Whitmore (Pleasantly Perfect) broke out of the gate, that was a bit of a heart attack–you're never sure who it is, in the instant that happens, and then you're anxious that everyone is okay before reloading. But Volatile was amazing, and kept his cool. Yes, it was a pretty manageable first quarter, but for any horse to finish off a Grade I in under :23 is pretty rare. Not many horses can do that, especially on the dirt.”

Characteristically, Cauthen plays down his role in the purchase of the new sprinting sensation. He's an advisory board member at Three Chimneys, who co-purchased Volatile at the Keeneland September Sale of 2017, along with Phoenix Thoroughbreds. As always, Cauthen had diligently worked the catalog: he has different clients, operating at different levels and with different agendas. If asked about one at the 11th hour, he wants to be prepared. And here was one that came into play a little later that that, even.

“Goncalo [Borges Torrealba, the farm chairman] asked me what I thought about the horse shortly before he was going through,” Cauthen recalls. “Kerri Radcliffe had reached out to him, saying she was keen to get him for Phoenix. I endorsed him pretty strongly to Goncalo. He's so good-looking, I'd think almost anybody would like him a lot. He was by a hot first-year sire out of a nice mare, and physically he was a wonderful blend of precocity, but with scope: he has length, and leverage and he's good-sized. And those horses–the great-looking ones, with great pedigree, that move with a purpose–are always going to be expensive.

“I'd hoped he might cost around $600,000-$650,000, but he ended up at $850,000. Actually, getting him bought was mostly about Goncalo being brave and decisive at the sales. He can make a quick decision and go with it and has always seen the sense in partnering with others when you have to go 'all-in' to get one. Goncalo believes in quality and backs up his belief with actions. Phoenix was pretty brave too.”

Cauthen says wryly that they had a couple of years to worry about the price, but even the most-expensive son of his sire now turns out to have been well bought.

“Steve Asmussen and his team have shown tremendous patience and confidence,” he says. “As a 2-year-old, the horse had a soft tissue strain, so they never got him until he was three. When he debuted, he was impressive; and he looked special when he won at Churchill in the fall, only to have a minor setback. But through it all, Steve believed; and has handled him like the Hall of Famer that he is.”

The Cauthen Way…

Dealing with trainers, dealing with partners: this horse is typical of the way Cauthen likes to work. For the whole ethos is collaborative. Very often he'll work in conjunction with managers or other advisers already integral to a program.

And while his surname is itself a virtual guarantee of horsemanship–his brothers Steve and Kerry having likewise carved out reputations in the industry that honor their grounding by parents Tex and Myra–it's worth remembering that Cauthen trained as a lawyer, and indeed practiced for a while before returning to the world into which he was born. For his various patrons surely see him in a similar mold: as the diligent expert who briefs them on the strategy most likely, come judgment day, to gain a favorable verdict.

Because of the diversity of his client list, and the corresponding spectrum of roles they ask him to perform, Cauthen has a dynamic sense of the way different plates of the industry lock together; and the efficiencies available between them. So where most of us would simply admire a beautiful house, he will see through the stonework to the beams holding it all together.

He operates his consultancy as the equivalent of an asset management company.

“The difference being just that the asset is not a stock, but a horse,” he explains. “My legal background likely helps, as it introduced another layer of analytical thinking to a business that's sometimes so rich in tradition that we never look for change. Obviously, the primary focus for anyone will be to breed and/or buy top-level horses. But how we get there is individualized, based on the client's mares, budget and their target goals.”

Ultimately, he can boil it all down to two simple words: “added value”. It's simply a question of applying business sense, and breadth of experience, to an ever-changing environment.

“We don't try to reinvent the wheel, or turn operations upside down,” Cauthen says. “We just evaluate current protocols and procedures and, if and when appropriate, make suggestions or tweaks: whether to matings, or horse preparation, or sales placement, or race management, or the purchasing of mares, yearlings and 2-year-olds. But what really helps is that we don't operate in a silo. Knowing multiple programs allows us to see what works best, and either to borrow ideas or see how different elements might work together in a fresh way.”

A Man Who Wears Many Hats..

Three Chimneys, admittedly, is a client with many different dimensions. And the action, as a result, is across the board: from Volatile to another stellar talent in 'TDN Rising Star' Guarana (Ghostzapper), who recently won her third Grade I in the Madison S.; from the breeding of GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Structor, by farm stallion Palace Malice out of a mare Cauthen recommended as a 2-year-old, to Gun Runner (Candy Ride {Arg}) himself.

“Being part of recommending, negotiating, and helping the Torrealba family secure the Besilu package has proven to be exactly the kind of foundational move we all hoped,” Cauthen says of the transfusion that produced a Horse of the Year. “I've really enjoyed helping to build their broodmare band, and the collaboration among the program owner and other advisors–in this case, with Goncalo, with Dr. Steve Jackson, Chris Baker and Case Clay.”

The farm's willingness to engage with others is not just confined to back-ring deals of the type that landed Volatile. Partnerships also oiled the wheels of stallion recruitment with Will Take Charge (Unbridled's Song) and Palace Malice (Curlin)–the former with Willis Horton, the latter with Dogwood–and indeed the co-breeding of Skitter Scatter (Scat Daddy) or the co-owned Restless Rider (Distorted Humor). Gun Runner, of course, was raced in partnership with Ron Winchell.

But if his association with a top-class stallion farm calls on the same kind of affinity he demonstrated in helping WinStar become an industry leader, during a decade as farm president (2001-2010), Cauthen relishes working with programs at every level; and operating from every perspective.

Peter Blum's remarkable success the previous Saturday was a perfect example: here's a program where Cauthen has never viewed himself as more than a helpful extra cog in what was already an intelligently assembled machine. Though Blum himself has publicly thanked Cauthen for recommending the matings that produced both Authentic and Crystal Ball, that esteem is warmly reciprocated. Both men, moreover, emphasize that the backbone remains Bridie Harrison, who has long been involved with raising and selling all Blum's stock.

“Peter has an abundance of knowledge and a proven feel for the game,” Cauthen says. “And I've learned a lot from him. His historical perspective of racing and breeding is so insightful, and I really appreciate and enjoy the opportunity to work with him. Peter has an innate sense of when to 'go strong' on a stallion, and breed as many mares as we can get to him. Several times we've been fortunate to ride the wave, as up-and-coming sires hit their stride: Candy Ride, Into Mischief, Quality Road, Uncle Mo. We just add eyes and ears, research, and collaboration to the process. Bridie does such a great job. It has become known as an operation that buyers trust to produce runners, because they know they are bred and raised right.”

In the same way, albeit in different directions, Cauthen feels that he has learned much from Anthony Manganaro and his Siena Farm team. Modesty aside, however, it is Cauthen who must accept credit for recommending a $50,000 claim for a 4-year-old filly named Gottahaveadream (Indian Charlie). It was the one and only time she ran for a tag, after failing to break her maiden in nine attempts. She put that straight a couple of starts later, and it was her Into Mischief filly–Dayoutoftheoffice, co-owned by trainer Tim Hamm and Siena–who followed up a debut success at Gulfstream in the Schuylerville.

“Anthony has such a zest for doing things better,” Cauthen says. “When you look at Siena's success, you can see how he has been rewarded for consistently creating incremental improvements to the program. Again, for a smaller, boutique operation, their results are outstanding. Their motto is 'where tradition embraces innovation' and that couldn't be more true. They are open to ideas, they embrace technology, and I've certainly learned as much as I've shared there.”

Point Of Honor (Curlin) and Wicked Whisper (Liam's Map) are just the latest Grade I graduates of a program that has produced far too many stakes winners to list here )though Tesora {Scat Daddy} merits a mention, out of a mare recommended by Cauthen as an $8,000 claim at Golden Gate Fields). Again, Cauthen finds the teamwork especially fulfilling, relishing the breadth and analysis brought to the equation by farm manager Nacho Patino and president David Pope.

“It's amazing to see the growth and development in their yearling crop from April to September each year,” he marvels. “That shows great horsemanship, great land, and a great blend of tradition and technology. Their results speak for them loud and clear.”

Maintaining and Building Relationships…

Cauthen found the Schuylerville equally enjoyable last year, when Comical (Into Mischief) enriched a long association with her breeder Bill Casner (and his wife Susan). Both men have moved on since their days at WinStar, but Casner still has a dozen mares on a farm he developed in a partnership–dissolved in 2010–with Kenny Troutt; and Cauthen assists with the matings and management of the Casner herd.

“Bill still keeps a couple of homebreds each year to race, but has become more of a commercial breeder recently,” he explains. “He's another one who is always trying to improve every year. Collaborating with him has been a life lesson of always searching for better ways to do things. For instance, in using new medical knowledge to help horses: Bill helped pioneer the use of progressive therapies like the hyperbaric chamber, stem cells, and vibration plates, now standard across the country.”

Comical was subsequently placed twice at Grade I level, while the same crop yielded a useful colt in Texas Swing (Curlin), last seen placing in the GII Tampa Bay Derby. He was actually also purchased at auction by Cauthen for Harrell Ventures as a yearling, one of several free-lance sale orders that have resulted in graded stakes success.

Another client who goes all the way back to Cauthen's departure from WinStar is Marie Jones, keeping up the legacy of her late husband, Aaron. Once again, Cauthen dovetails his contribution with her existing stalwarts at Taylor Made Farm, where all the mares and their progeny are boarded and raised. The program routinely produces Book I yearlings such as the Medaglia d'Oro filly out of Gloryzapper (Ghostzapper) who made $1.1 million last September; and graded stakes horses in corresponding volume. Cauthen works closely with Jones and Frank Taylor, on mare selection, matings, evaluations and even sales reserves.

“Mrs. Jones was the first outside person to call me, once Katie and I started our consulting business, and I will be forever grateful for her support over the years,” Cauthen says.

One important dividend came in the very first year of his involvement, when Speightstown's precious dam Silken Cat (Storm Cat) was in the wars.

“She had not carried a foal the prior year, and was having chronic trouble with her feet due to a prior bout of laminitis,” Cauthen recalls. “I suggested stem cell therapy for her feet, thanks to my Bill Casner connection; Frank concurred, and it was fairly miraculous for the mare. Not only did it help thicken her hoof sole, and give her renewed mobility and great comfort, she also got in foal and produced an exceptional Tiznow filly, who sold for $1.75 million.”

Three years later, moreover, she produced a brother to that filly who became Irap, winner of nearly $1.7 million.

Familiarity with the perspectives of farms like WinStar and Three Chimneys has also helped Cauthen in yet another string to his bow: stallion placement. He worked for the Whitham family, for instance, in securing a home for McCraken (Ghostzapper) and Fort Larned (E Dubai); supervised the purchase, placement and syndication of Dialed In (Mineshaft) at Darby Dan, working with his friend (and one-time WinStar colleague) Robert Hammond; and is currently engaged in seeking a platform for Sadler's Joy (Kitten's Joy), once the Grade I winner of over $2.5 million retires from racing. (Cauthen also does matings work for owners Rene and Lauren Woolcott of Woodslane Farm.)

There are times, in underpinning parallel operations, when Cauthen finds they can engage quite seamlessly. Dual Grade II winner Rainha Da Bateria (Broken Vow), for instance, was a yearling purchase recommended to Three Chimneys; became a graded stakes winner/Grade I-placed; and was then sold privately, as the farm program prioritized dirt, to another cherished client, the Lael Stable of Roy and Gretchen Jackson. A “win-win”, as such, for both entities: she went on to win two more Grade IIs for Lael.

With Lael, as ever, the approach is holistic: mating advice; evaluation of young stock; a close relationship with trainer Arnaud Delacour; and, likewise, with the team at Denali (where the mares board), including another trusted old WinStar colleague in Gary Bush.

“The focus is on developing homebreds, but they do buy a few yearlings annually,” Cauthen says. “The first horse I ever bought with them was Exaggerated, a very fast Blame filly who won multiple stakes with Arnaud. In her first year as a mare, she went to Divining Rod (Tapit) in Maryland, who the Jacksons bred and raced, and now support at stud. The Pons brothers at Country Life Farm got over 100 mares to him his first year, and I'm looking forward to seeing the resulting yearlings at the sales this year.

“Chalon (Dialed In) has also been a fun one for Lael. She's such a tenacious mare, always tries, and had the [GI] Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint won just that one jump from the wire. But until they get a few more Grade I winners to their credit, I won't be satisfied with our efforts for the Jacksons: they are the kind of people you admire, and you only want success after success for them.”

Always A Student of the Business…

And that is Cauthen to the marrow. Fulfilment, satisfaction: these are not filtered through his own ego, but vicariously through his clients. As such, in this game of ups and downs, he remains an even, temperate presence. But that, in itself, does shed some light on what makes this discreet, understated gentleman tick. Just listen to the way Cauthen talks about working so closely with his clients' various trainers.

“I've learned different things from all of them,” he says. “It doesn't matter whether you're talking about the many skilled horsemen who break and do early training, or those who do lay-ups and therapy work, or all the Hall of Famers and other great trainers I've been fortunate to work with–you can't help but learn something. Just by watching, and occasionally interjecting an idea or, more importantly, asking a question. You gain so much insight about how different horsemen attack different situations, different problems, in unique ways. There's so much you can learn by observing, listening, asking relevant questions-rather than doing all the talking.”

And that, in a business where many are inclined to function in quite the reverse fashion, is surely the key to Cauthen's success. Because from his own upbringing, at home, to his first racetrack experiences, rubbing horses for Laz Barrera and P.G. Johnson, it's all old-school stuff. Putting the horse first; and working together; and working, period. Similarly, when brother Steve was gaining all those headlines, as the teenage rider of a Triple Crown winner and then taking Europe by storm, he was always able to keep his bearings.

“For sure,” Cauthen says. “Our parents really focused on family, and a strong work ethic. And, always, listen to the horse. What are they trying to tell us? I tend to think a lot about things; some would say, too much. But it's part of my process. While I always want to improve, I doubt I can or should change that process; maybe I can just speed it up! The rest, I think, is just putting in the work; and taking care of the horse, which often requires patience.

“I think Bill Casner said it best. Once you've worked on the racetrack, everything else is easy. That's really true. Working with horses, you understand how much work goes into every single one of them, and how many different hands touch them, for success to occur; and how lucky we are to be working with these animals we love. So it's a win-win.”

The industry's sense of kinship with the whole clan now extends to a day-to-day involvement, in the consultancy, of Cauthen's wife Katie.

“She has a keen eye for horseflesh, and helps tremendously when we're trying to look at a lot of horses at the bigger sales,” Cauthen says. “She does a small pinhooking program each year, under the DCTM banner, and picked out King Guillermo (Uncle Mo) at the September Sale last year. She also advised on the private purchase of an interest in Bowies Hero (Artie Schiller) before his first of two Grade I wins, and buys maiden mares for a client with an eye to breeding and reselling them.

“We don't buy a high volume of horses at auction, but enough to give us reason to look at as many as humanly possible. That works out well, as we've said, in a case like Volatile. But it also helps us get better, every year, at identifying runners. We always look back and see what we thought of the graded runners and learn from that. It also particularly helps in doing matings, because we've seen so many by each stallion: we understand their strengths and weaknesses, the tendencies they throw towards.”

Just one example, this, of what Cauthen means by “added value”–the nuances and angles gleaned from charting different folds of the overall landscape.

“The cross-pollination of ideas I get and give has its genesis from all the various experiences we get to see,” Cauthen concludes. “And we keep trying to get better. I may learn or see a therapy or technology or a training technique at one operation that can, if approved, be shared with and help another. Working with a cross-section of people, in diverse settings, has sometimes opened our eyes to better ways to do things.

“So hopefully we are viewed as traditional horsemen who seek and embrace new ideas, and better ways to accomplish the ultimate goal of producing and identifying superior athletes. I've really enjoyed helping to develop and/or refine different programs, big or small. That's equally true, whether we're making every decision or just helping to tweak things with others. When it works, it's great to celebrate with all the folks involved.”

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