Kentucky Derby

Dullahan has former Triple Crown jockey on his side

Steve Cauthen rode 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed.
Steve Cauthen rode 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed.

He is one of the few who can relate to the indescribable mix of emotions pumping through I'll Have Another's connections right now, which is part of the reason former jockey Steve Cauthen has openly thrown his support behind the chestnut colt trying to emulate what his mount did 34 years prior.

"When you've been involved with a Triple Crown, the last thing you would do is root against anybody else doing it ... because it's just such a difficult thing to do," said the man who guided Affirmed to his three-race sweep in 1978.

But should the longest drought between Triple Crown winners continue after Saturday's Belmont Stakes, a victory by Donegal Racing's Dullahan would still qualify as reason for Cauthen to celebrate.

If Dullahan does spoil I'll Have Another's Triple Crown bid, a family gathering could break out in the Belmont winner's circle since Julie Cauthen, wife of Steve's younger brother Kerry, is the chief operating officer for Donegal Racing.

Having held the torch as the last jockey to pilot a Triple Crown winner for more than three decades now, Steve Cauthen is as ready as anyone to see another exceptional runner complete the sweep.

If blood is thicker than water, however, it also ranks higher than catering to the racing gods.

"I'm not rooting against I'll Have Another but I'm definitely rooting for (Julie) too," Steve said of his sister-in-law. "It would be a big feather in Julie's cap if she could be associated with a classic winner. So I'm definitely rooting for her first.

"If (I'll Have Another) does do it, he'll have proven he's a deserving winner because it's not a cakewalk of a race. But if anyone beats him, I hope its Dullahan."

Having some karma from a Triple Crown winner on Dullahan's side doesn't hurt. But the real ammo for the son of Even the Score is the improvement he has demonstrated over the last few months.

Along with fellow Grade I winner Union Rags, Dullahan is seen as one of the primary obstacles I'll Have Another is going to have to overcome in the Belmont.

His triumphs in the Grade I Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last fall and Toyota Blue Grass Stakes over the same track this spring make Dullahan the only sophomore male other than I'll Have Another to earn multiple Grade I victories thus far.

Where Union Rags has some distance questions in his pedigree, Dullahan would appear to have the bloodlines to handle the 11/2-mile distance. And though his record says he has yet to win in four tries over dirt track, Dullahan's rallying third-place run in the Kentucky Derby could be considered the best of his nine-race career to date.

"The dirt question does keep popping up but I think he has pretty much put that to rest," said Julie Cauthen, who has been with Donegal since September. "That race (the Kentucky Derby) for him was not without incident. He was coming on hard and he was coming wide. The way he finished that race, and the way he recovered from that race so quickly you can make an argument it was his strongest race to date."

So well did Dullahan bounce back from the Derby that trainer Dale Romans initially wanted to run the half brother to 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the Preakness two weeks later. Jerry Crawford, managing partner for Donegal, however, convinced his venerable trainer that freshening up for the Belmont marathon would ultimately be the best approach.

"In hindsight, I think Jerry made the right decision," Romans said.

Aside from having to overtake a dual classic winner who appears at his peak, a sticking point for Dullahan could be his late-closing running style, something that isn't always effective in a 11/2-mile race that usually produces soft fractions and favors horses with I'll Have Another's high cruising speed.

Romans has maintained, though, that his chestnut charge has more speed than he has had to show in his races and is handy enough to be placed closer to the pace if needed. After the colt worked a bullet 4 furlongs in a head-snapping :45.97 over the Belmont oval under jockey Javier Castellano on Sunday morning, it is hard to argue against the confidence coming from his barn.

"I don't want to come across as arrogant, but I like my horse," Romans said. "I think if this horse (I'll Have Another) is going to win the Triple Crown, Dullahan is the biggest threat standing in his way. He is training so well and he has come around the right way. I wouldn't change places with anybody in this race."

Though she hasn't gone so far as to pick her brother-in-law's brain just yet, Julie Cauthen is hoping some of the magic he produced 34 years ago can float her charge's direction this weekend.

"It's an interesting connection. The Cauthens and classic races seem to go together," Julie laughed. "I'm hoping some of his good fortune can rub off on us. He had a lot of mojo in his day."

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