Out on Top

This article appeared in the June 29 issue of The Blood-Horse
by Jenine Sahadi -- When I received a call to do a piece on the heels of Chris McCarron's retirement, my first thought was, "How am I qualified?" After thinking about it for five minutes, I decided to throw caution to the wind.

The immediate McCarron family is comprised of Chris and Judy, but the extended family spans from coast to coast. Daughters Stephanie, Erin, and Kristin have become beautiful, productive women, which is a testament to Chris and Judy's child-rearing techniques. Not only are Judy and Chris "Mom and Dad" to the girls, they are respected friends and mentors.

Chris and Judy as husband and wife are just as special. Jealousy is an emotion many around the track feel in witnessing their relationship. I am only one of many envious of their unique and prosperous marriage.

Communication seems to run rampant in the McCarron household in moments of good and bad. They are always laughing, poking fun at each other, and acutely aware of when it's time to shut one's mouth. And although I don't have first-hand knowledge of it, I hear the sex is great. They love and fight with great passion after a lifetime together. For all the many accomplishments of Chris, his family is his greatest feat.

The horses he has ridden and races he has won are too many to list. Suffice it to say they have helped to make Chris the all-time leading rider by money won. The list of trainers he has won for reads like a Who's Who of racing, and I don't think you could find one owner who would not describe him as the consummate professional. Chris has established himself as the true class act in racing.

Fans are the most necessary element of racing, and Chris' gracious demeanor and thoughtful attitude are responsible for attracting them in droves. Every autograph is signed with a smile and thank you, and every photograph snapped with a child is accompanied by a bit of advice.

A few years ago Judy opened a restaurant in posh San Marino and named it Too Dine For. Business was booming and delivery orders were brisk. On one busy evening, after a quick bite to eat, Chris hopped in his car to make a delivery for Judy. The in-home diner was dumbfounded to find Chris holding his dinner. He was probably waiting for Alan Funt to appear. Unsure how to handle the situation, the fellow offered Chris a $5 tip. Chris chuckled. "No thank you, sir," he said. "Keep the money, but please don't tell anyone I did this, OK?" In typical style, he delivered an autograph with the meal.

We all know how ardently Chris feels about "causes." He is outspoken on equine medication issues, diligent in raising funds through his Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund to aid those injured, and his dedication to heal the Jockeys' Guild is unprecedented. And to say he is genuinely concerned for the animal is an understatement. His love for the horse is truly unique.

I am indebted to my staff for my successes. My assistants, grooms, exercise riders, and hot walkers are the greatest part of my morning. It is impossible to succeed in anything without the help of many. Chris agrees with me completely. His loyalty to my employees has been remarkable.

He knows every groom by name. Compliments to workers leave his lips with the same enthusiasm as the left-handed stick in a tight photo. Chris is first up with a stakes check and thank you. And for his many successes he is an unassuming regular guy who is devoted to teamwork and the love of the sport.

The retirement may be a shock to many. Reminiscent of his "rearview" peak at the quarter pole, we should not ask why. Remember Chris as a gifted athlete with an intense competitive spirit and a desire to retire on top of his game.

The Chris I know is a combination of strength, grace, dedication, and will--attributes he applies to every aspect of his life. For me to have become close to the McCarron family is a privilege. I am indebted to Chris on many levels.

Before the 2000 Santa Anita Derby an old wise man asked, "Hey Chris, who's training that horse, you or Jenine?" Chris didn't train The Deputy, but his input, commitment, and loyalty were invaluable. For Jenine Sahadi to be chided for being a student of Chris McCarron--well, it is nothing short of a tremendous compliment.

Jenine Sahadi is a Southern California-based trainer.