Talkin' Horses - Live Discussions

Matt McCarron Jockey

Wednesday November 23, 2005

Join champion jockey Matt McCarron as he prepares to ride reigning Eclipse Award Steeplechase champion Hirapour in Saturday's Colonial Cup showdown with 2003 champion McDynamo.

McCarron, who won second straight NSA jockey championship with 24 wins and $592,743 in earnings in 2004, has won major races with champion steeplechaser Hirapour (including two Grade I wins), Sur La Tete, Racey Dreamer, Snowball Flannagan, and Gold Mitten. Son of former flat jockey Gregg McCarron and nephew of Hall of Fame flat jockey Chris McCarron, Matt won his first race aboard Forty Four Thunder in 1993.

He is currently tied with Jody Petty for the lead in 2005 standings (through Nov. 11) with 17 wins and  leads the circuit with $510,870 in earnings.

MODERATOR:
Whether you are a steeplechasing fan who wants to enhance their knowledge of that sport or a neophyte with little or no knowledge of it, today's guest has a lot to offer. Here we go and hope Matt can answer all of your questions.

Asheville, NC:
Someone suggested to me that in order to improve the safety of jockeys and save horses from catastrophic injury, it would be a good idea to take some of the older/sounder TB bloodlines preserved and cultivated in the sport horse industry and reintroduce them to the TB racing stock. Do you see this as an option?

McCarron:
That is a great idea, but unfortunately there is so much money involved, between purses and breeding, that no one would be willing to risk breeding slower horses.

Bethesda, MD:
How can flat racing trainers complain about increasing the scale of weights for jockeys with the argument that the added weight will hurt the horses when former flat racers can carry 150 pounds over hurdles for two miles?

McCarron:
Great question. I believe that a marginal increase of weights would not add any greater risk to the horses’ safety.

Diamond Bar, CA:
I am 20 years old, and I am trying to become a jockey like your uncle... but he is not the reason why I want to become one. I have done all I can. I have read books on racing, I watch racing on TV. Since no one is “teaching” me, so to speak, I am teaching myself about racing. Is steeplechase harder then flat racing? Do most jockeys come from families who have raced in the past? You know what I mean. I am the only one in my family who wants to be the next best jockey. I am not kidding. Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Kirin Arnold

McCarron:
Kirin you are in luck. Chris is beginning a school for jockeys. It will be located in Lexington, KY. This will be the first of its kind in this country. The web site for it is Naracingacademy.com and Chris can be reached at: Chris@Naracingacademy.com.

Bloomsburg, PA:
Hi Matt. Good luck with Hirapour on Saturday. I have seen him in the flesh at Keeneland and Saratoga and he is a magnificent horse. I think steeplechasing is such a magnificent sport; for these horses to do what they do for 2 miles or more and than give their all at the finish, I just think they are such courageous and amazing athletes. My question is, what do you think can be done to make steeplechasing more popular in the US?

McCarron:
Thanks very much for the support. I wish everyone could have a Hirapour in their life. He is one of the coolest horses I've ever been associated with. Steeplechasing needs to try an educate the public more. Most people have never seen a steeplechase race and therefore know nothing about it. I believe that if more people understood the sport there would be greater interest.

Forest Hill, MD:
Hi Matt, this is Terra here. I was wondering how you're faring with your injuries this year. Are there any repercussions concerning your riding ability physically? Good luck and keep safe.

McCarron:
This year has been a bit frustrating because of all the injuries. My shoulder is the only one I have really struggled with. It has kept me on the sidelines the longest and has limited the amount of riding I can do during the week. I will have surgery on it as soon as the season is over so that I should be 100% for next year.

Philip G. Rynn, Republic of the Philippines:
As a jump rider, are you more concerned about negotiating the first several fences, or the last few? I understand that both have concerns, and it appears that those are the locations where the majority of problems occur. Do you view either area as more problematic than the other? What would the majority of NSA riders say, and does your opinion differ with timber vs. national fences? Thanks.

McCarron:
Very good question Philip. Early in a race I find it very important to get my horses to settle. So sometimes I don't mind it if they make a bit of a mistake or two early on if it backs them off a bit. As for the latter stages of a race, you need everything to go as smoothly as possible because the real running has begun at that point and every little mistake jeopardizes your chnaces of winning. As for timber races, it is much more crucial to having a good jumping trip through out because the fences are much less forgiving.

New Albany, IN:
Do you think there should be better purses in steeplechasing to provide an incentive for more of those type races? It looks like steeplechase races would be ideal for sponsorships.

McCarron:
Purses for steeplechase races have slowly increased over the years, but yes an increase in money would definitely help the sport. Great observation about the sponsorships. Most all steeplechase purse money comes from corporate sponsorship. Most hunt meets are responsible for raising money for a charitable organization and use the sponsorships for the purses.

Louisville, KY:
Will the jockeys' school being established by Chris also provide training for jump jockeys or will it be for flat riders only?

McCarron:
I would imagine that for the time being the school will strictly concentrate on the flat game. But over time if it is as successful as we hope it to be, I could foresee it broadening out to the jump game as well.

Lexington, KY:
Who do you consider the toughest competitor within the steeplechase riding fraternity?

McCarron:
That's a tough question. Without a doubt I would have said that Dave Bentley was one of the toughest competitors in the game. Unfortunately he retired this fall and will be sorely missed.

Franklin Grove, IL:
I just read the very sad news about the 16-year-old old jockey being killed--horse went down, etc. Where does the responsibility lie to prevent sore horses from running? I don’t buy the “instant catastrophic injury” story. There has to be previous damage before the “going down” stage. Personally, I think if a vet finds a hairline fracture/chips etc., that the horse should be on the “vet’s list” or on some list. Horses can recoup from all sorts of injuries given the time, which, of course, people do not care to give. Why would a jockey not get off a horse he can feel is sore in the post parade? If he can feel it in the post parade with all of the medications and adrenalin, it’s serious. I think you jockeys have to protect yourselves because the trainers/owners/tracks/racing secretaries don't really seem to be that concerned. Isn’t one jockey’s life worth it? I have great respect for all of you jockeys—you are strong, courageous, talented horsemen, and I wish all of you only the best. Happy trails, Trudi Morsman

McCarron:
Trudi, to answer the first of your questions, in my opinion the ultimate responsibility lies with the trainer. I do have to disagree with your second statement though. There is no doubt in my mind that a perfectly sound horse can suffer a catastrophic injury. I have unfortunately experienced this first hand. These animals are supporting 1,000 pounds of weight on legs that are barely larger than our arms. At the speeds in which they travel they produce so much torque that at any misstep tragedy can occur. Many trainers are very good horse people and do give there horses the time required at the first sign of a problem. To answer the last part of your question, there are many times when a jockey will feel something in a post parade and ask the track veterinarian to examine the animal that can result in the horse being scratched out of the race. If however the vet chooses not to scratch the horse, the jockey can refuse to ride the horse. Trudi, thank you very much for your support; it is greatly appreciated.

Lexington, KY:
How does it feel when your girlfriend (Danielle Hodsdon) beats you in a race?

McCarron:
Well I never like to lose, but if I’m going to get beat than I’m always glad to see that it’s Danni in the winner’s circle. But if she beats me in a photo than she’s sleeping on the couch.

Berkeley, CA:
Hi Mr. McCarron, I don’t know much about steeple chasing so I was hoping you could enlighten me. Are most steeplechasers geldings? Is there a certain sire that is known for producing good steeplechasers? How are chasers capable of running so much further and carrying so much more weight than flat-racers if both (chasers and flat runners) are Thoroughbreds? And a personal question...why did you choose chasing over flat riding? Thanks and good luck Saturday! Pam

McCarron:
Hi Pam thanks for participating today. To answer your first question, yes most of the horses are geldings. Every once in a while you’ll see a colt, but that is not a common occurrence. We also offer a filly and mare series during the season. Steeplechasing’s all-time leading sire is Northern Baby. The great majority of horses running over fences had flat careers before becoming jumpers. Most trainers look for pedigrees that include grass and distance. The training regimen is slightly different. They do longer slower workouts as opposed to their flat counterparts, where outright speed is essential. I chose steeplechase racing over flat racing because I was too big to be a flat jockey.

San Clemente, CA:
Matt, have you thought about racing on the Thoroughbred racing circuit like your Uncle Chris? You must be a great equestrian being able to compete with steeplechasers. I am in awe... Thanks, Chris was my favorite.

McCarron:
I would have loved to have been a flat jockey but unfortunately I was too big to be one. I weigh anywhere from 133-140 pounds. Flat jockeys have to weigh from between 105-115.

San Juan, Puerto Rico:
Thank you very much for taking my question. Is there any possible parallel and or inspiration between your outstanding career while dealing with weight and the career of any other tall jockey you know?

McCarron:
I am fortunate, for even though I’m too big to ride on the flat, I'm considered one of the natural lightweights in my sport. As I’ve gotten older I have had to struggle a little with my weight but in no way do I have to deal with the daily rigors that most flat jockey’s must endure.

Tallahassee, FL:
Hi! When you’re in the gate in big races like these, are you especially nervous or excited, or is it just another race?

McCarron:
Steeplechase races in the U.S. do not use starting gates. We have a walk up start, in which the starter drops a flag when all the horses are in the desired positions. But, yes in a big race the blood starts pumping a little faster. I do my best to try and treat it as just another race and not to put too much pressure on myself.

Brunswick, NY:
Matt, is training in the future for you, when your riding days are over? Is training a jumper the same as training a flat race horse? Are there differences or similarities?

McCarron:
At the moment I think I will look outside of the horse industry when I retire, but I would not completely rule out training. For the most part training both disciplines are similar. The major difference is that flat racing is geared much to raw speed, where jumpers require a great deal more endurance.

Bowmanville, Ontario:
Hi, Matt. As you know, steeplechasing is a very big sport in England and Ireland. Have you ever ridden there or do you have any plans to try it sometime?

McCarron:
I have never had the opportunity to ride over there. My only chance came in 2001. I was meant to ride a horse in the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but the Festival was canceled due to the outbreak of hoof and mouth disease in England. I would love the chance to ride over there before I retire.

Lexington, KY:
I'd like to know when Matt is going to get a REAL job. It must be nice to go horseback riding every day...

McCarron:
I have been offered an executive position at the first ever U.S. jockey school. It should be opening in 2006 in Lexington, KY and I felt compelled to accept their six figure salary offer.

Aiken, SC:
Hey, Matt! It is easy to keep track of things with the Internet, and I have been doing just that. Keep up the good work. I'll be cheering for you Saturday! All the best, Ann Zouck

McCarron:
Thanks Ann I hope all is going well. Hope to see you in the spring.

Plymouth, MA:
Matt! I was at a seminar the other day where I had a nametag on. A woman came up to me and asked me if I was related to steeplechase jockey Matt McCarron! No kidding! Atta boy! Michael (your cousin)

McCarron:
Thanks Michael! It was great getting to see you this summer.

Holbrook, MA:
Who is your favorite uncle?

McCarron:
Which ever one has me in his will!

Richmond, VA:
I’ve seen you race at Colonial Downs. Hirapour and McDynamo are both brave horses. Steeplechase riding is such a dangerous sport. Have you had any bad spills when you thought you’d never want to ride again?

McCarron:
After this summer I had some reservations about continuing in this line of work. On June 26 I broke six ribs, July 27 I broke my arm in two places requiring a plate and eight screws, and on Sept. 9 I broke my collarbone and separated my shoulder which will require surgery in the off season. But for now I still enjoy it a great deal and hope to ride for another year or two.

Morgantown, WV:
What did your father/uncle say when you decided to become a steeplechase jockey? If you weighed 110 pounds, could you be a flat jockey? How good would you be?

McCarron:
He was not very happy to say the least. Over the years he has mellowed his views. He is without a doubt one of my biggest supporters. If I weighed 110 there is no doubt I would have ridden on the flat. As to how good I would have been, let's just say that I would consider myself lucky to have been spoken of in the same breath that my father and uncle are.

Camden, SC:
Do you remember watching your dad and uncle ride races? What made them good?

McCarron:
Yes I remember very well watching them ride. I believe that they had very similar strengths. They were both very strong and extremely intelligent riders.

Lexington, KY:
What is the best race you ever rode, and why?

McCarron:
I would have to say for me personally, it was last year's Colonial Cup because the Eclipse award was on the line.

Syracuse, NY:
What do you do the night before a race? The morning of? An hour before?

McCarron:
Usually follow the same routine every week. The night before I get all of my equipment organized. The morning of I go and walk the course. An hour before I'm getting dressed and my tack ready to go and saddle my horse, going over in my head what I would like to do in the race.

Elkton, MD:
What are some of the things the average flat-racing fan should know about jump racing?

McCarron:
Patience, is the main thing. Our races take much longer and I believe that many flat racing fans lose interest because of that. These animals are the greatest athletes in the world. They have to run at 25 to 30 miles an hour for two-plus miles and navigate anywhere from 9 to 23 fences.

Dallas, TX:
Have you considered riding in Ireland or England?

McCarron:
I would relish the opportunity to ride in England or Ireland. I would need to have a trainer over there willing to give me the chance.

Springfield, MO:
What do you think the main difference is between riding in steeplechases and riding on the flat, other than the fences themselves? Are all the strategy elements for a jockey in flat racing still as important in steeplechasing (like the start, the pace, etc.)? Are some more important in steeplechasing, some less? I've loved steeplechasing since reading a great book on Jay Trump. Thanks.

McCarron:
I firmly believe the major difference for jockeys riding over fences is patience. Because we are racing over further distances, if a rider moves too soon their horse will rarely get home in front. Less important is the start for very much the same reason. Some riders intentionally break their horses slowly in order to help them get covered up and settle early in a race. The most important thing is to get your horse to settle as best as possible.

Holbrook, MA:
Matt, how difficult is it to get back and ride after a serious injury? How much anxiety do you feel prior to your first race back?

McCarron:
If given the proper amount of time to heal, you don't really worry too much about getting back into the tack. This year, unfortunately, I have had to ride a couple of times before I have completely healed. In those cases I've had to be more selective in the rides I've taken because having a fall would have ended my season.

Aiken, SC:
Matt, I know you bypassed the Aiken Fall Meet because you aggravated a shoulder injury the previous week. I know you've won two races since skipping Aiken. How's the shoulder, and how confident are you coming into the Camden Fall meet? Ben Baugh, Aiken Standard

McCarron:
Thanks Ben, The shoulder still is bothering me but I'm having surgery after the season to repair it. I feel very confident going into the Colonial Cup. I have several very live rides and hopefully will have great success. Whether I can win enough to catch Jody Petty or not remains to be seen.

Lexington, KY:
Matt, Are steeplechase riders eligible for membership in the Jockeys' Guild? Are you a Guild member? If you are eligible and not a member, why not?

McCarron:
To be perfectly honest I have no idea whether or not we are eligible. I would have to guess that we would not be. If we are eligible I would not be a member because of all the current turmoil that is occuring w/ the guild.

Anderson, SC:
Which race do you most look forward to each year?

McCarron:
I would have to say the Breeder's cup. It is the biggest race of the year and carries the most public awareness.

Holbrook, MA:
How does it feel when your uncle Mark beats you in Golf?

McCarron:
Wouldn't know its never happened before!

Alan Mc:
Are your chances good for another riding title this year? How about an eclipse?

McCarron:
Hey Uncle Alan- I am currently one win behind. I have 5 rides on Saturday 3 of which are very live. With a little luck Hopefully I can knock out a few wins.

Anderson, SC:
Matt, which chaser have you always looked to as being the best? Good luck in our Colonial Cup!

McCarron:
During my lifetime I would consider Lonesome Glory to be the best. His career was incredible. He not only won just about every big race in the U.S., he went to England and won twice over there. Flatterer would be a close second. Thanks

MODERATOR:
Thanks very much Matt and good luck in the Colonial Cup.

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