Born on March 27,1955, in the Dorchester area of Boston, Chris followed his brother Gregg in becoming a jockey. His early tutelage was under Odie Clelland, who decades earlier had provided similar training to Eddie Arcaro. Chris started as a hotwalker in the summer of 1971 and after graduation from high school got his schooling as a rider at Rockingham Park in Salem, NH and then at Laurel and Bowie Race Courses in Maryland.
Chris’s first race was on January 24,1974, and he won on his 10th mount, Erezev, in early February. He remained on the Maryland circuit for four years, during which he won the Eclipse Award for apprentice jockey in 1974 and led all jockeys in number of wins in both 1974 and 1975. His 546 wins in 1974 set a record for a single year which stood for 15 years.
Chris moved to the tough Southern California circuit and quickly proved successful even in a jockey colony with such stars as Bill Shoemaker and Laffit Pincay. He eventually won 25 Southern California meeting titles for most wins. In 1980, he led the nation in wins for a third time, and he led all jockeys in money won in 1980, 1981, 1984, and 1991. In addition to his successes in California, Chris compiled a symmetrical record in the Triple Crown, winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes twice each, with Alysheba, Go for Gin, Pine Bluff, Danzig Connection, and Touch Gold.
Alysheba, Horse of the Year in 1988, was one of 28 champions Chris rode to major victories, and the others included additional Horse of the Year honorees Lady’s Secret, Sunday Silence, Tiznow, Criminal Type, and the beloved John Henry. Chris’s record in the Breeders’ Cup was similarly spectacular, as he won nine of the climactic events. Five of his Breeders’ Cup wins came in the Classic, on Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Alphabet Soup, and Tiznow (twice).
Chris was the first jockey to amass $200 million in purse earnings, and when he retired in 2002 he was still the all-time leader with $263,985,905. He won 7,141 races from 34,240 mounts, for a robust 20.8%. The victories included more than a thousand stakes, of which approximately half were graded.
The many honors Chris received included election to the Hall of Fame in 1989, another Eclipse Award for jockeys, George Woolf and Mike Venezia Memorial Awards, an ESPY, two City of Hope Victor Awards, and five Seagram Seven Crowns of Sports Awards. He was the first full time professional rider to be elected to The Jockey Club, and he is a member of its Thoroughbred Safety Committee. He was co-founder with Tim Conway and Judy McCarron of the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund.
Chris’s outgoing and articulate style are suited for on-camera commentary, and he has done racing coverage for ABC, NBC, ESPN, and TVG. He also was race designer for the movie Seabiscuit, in which he portrayed Charlie Kurtsinger, rider of War Admiral. Upon retirement, he had been tapped by Frank Stronach to extend his reach into track management, and Chris had stints as general manager of Santa Anita and as vice president of Industry Relationships for Stronach’s vast racing and entertainment enterprise.
However, Chris had a personal goal, to develop a jockey school, and he was not only the inspiration but the architect of the North American Riding Academy. The Academy immediately became affiliated with Bluegrass Community Technical College, and the curriculum offers a pathway to various other horsemanship jobs in the industry, in addition to race riding. McCarron has retired as head of NARA, having sent out two dozen graduates to win more than 3,400 races and nearly $60 million in purses through mid-2016.
Over the years, Chris has served the following organizations; The Jockeys’ Guild, The Starlight Foundation, The Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund, Kids to the Cup, High Hope Steeplechase, the Lexington Dream Factory, the Water Hay and Oats Alliance, the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity and the Humane Society of the United States National Horse Council.
In honor of his lengthy career demonstrating the highest levels of talent in competition, his integrity, concern for the horse, and dedication to the best interests of the sport of Thoroughbred racing and the community, the Thoroughbred Club of America, assembled at Keeneland Race Course on this 25th day of September in the year 2016, hereby presents this testimonial scroll to Chris McCarron and welcomes him as an honorary lifetime member.
The Thoroughbred Club of America
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