The impressive performance turned in by apprentice jockey John McKee in the fall meet at Churchill Downs has put another record held by legendary rider Steve Cauthen in real danger.The 21-year-old McKee is bearing down on the mark for wins by an apprentice jockey at Churchill Downs held since 1976 by Steve Cauthen, who won 24 races in a 24-day meet that year. Heading into Saturday's racing program, McKee had notched 15 victories in the first 17 days of a scheduled 30-day fall session. Only one rider – Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day, who possesses 31 riding crowns under the Twin Spires, has more victories."I'm just trying to be the best that I can be," said McKee. "Fortunately, I've had a lot of success."Should McKee break Cauthen's Churchill Downs record, it won't be the first time that his name has been mentioned in the same breath with the world famous jockey who became a household name in the late 1970's. Cauthen was dubbed "The Kid" during his breathtaking rise to the top of the sport. He rode Affirmed to victory in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and a sweep of the Triple Crown in 1978, the same year that he was named Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year." He's the only jockey ever to earn that honor.McKee, who rode in his first race in March at Turfway Park and piloted his first winner in late May at River Downs, broke another of Cauthen's records this summer at the Cincinnati track. He missed the first month of the River Downs meet while mending from a broken collarbone, but returned to score 114 victories. McKee erased Cauthen's apprentice wins record at the track and won the overall meet title. McKee rode 24 winners at Turfway Park's September meet to earn another riding crown.Despite his instant success, McKee has provided no indication that the victories have inflated his ego. The second generation jockey -- who stands 4 feet 11 inches and weighs in at only 95 pounds -- prefers to credit those who have provided him with the opportunity to win all of those races."If it wasn't for the people, I wouldn't be here," said McKee. "I'm very fortunate and very lucky that it has to happen to me."His father, retired jockey David McKee, offered advice to his son once it was clear that the younger McKee had his mind set on a career in the saddle. But a key figure in McKee's development has been agent Eddie Campbell, who is also the young rider's roommate. The 73-year-old veteran has offered wisdom gained through decades of experience to his young star, and McKee has been eager to soak it all in.
"After the races we come home and we watch the replays," he said. "He points things out to me that I need to do and I don't need to do and it's very, very helpful. He keeps me in line - he's a very good guy."After the Churchill Downs meet ends on Nov. 30, McKee and Campbell will head north to ride at New York's Aqueduct – the market in which Cauthen made his national splash as an apprentice."I try not to worry about it right now," he said. "My meet right here's at Churchill, so I want to keep my mind right here at Churchill. That's another month away. I'm having the time of my life. I can't complain."