McCarron: Ready to Rest, Then Take on New Challenges

Minutes into a Friday teleconference about his retirement, jockey Chris McCarron dismissed rumors circulating that his health is bad.

"I'm in very good health," said the 47-year-old Hall of Fame rider who leads all others with $264 million in career earnings. "I feel terrific. I'm very pleased I'm able to retire on my own terms."

McCarron's reasons for retiring are straight-forward. He's tired and ready for new challenges. But above all, after 28 years of racing, he's tired.

"I recognized I was losing my enthusiasm," he said. "I convinced myself years ago that if I ever let that happen, I would quit. If I didn't, the horses are not being treated fairly, the owners are not being treated fairly, and the public is not being treated fairly. Besides, it is very difficult to compete against the top roster of rider I compete with regularly even when I'm 100%. If I'm going to be compromised by my lack of enthusiasm, than it is time to pull the plug."

McCarron added that it was becoming more of a struggle to keep a positive demeanor around owners and trainers.

"No trainer wants to deal with you when you are in a bad mood," he said. "When I would walk into the barn area in a bad mood, I had to learn how to disguise that. I quite frankly I had to act. It is a bit of a pretense and I'm tired of it."

Among the horses he'll remember the most, McCarron named John Henry because he rode the one-time leading money earner in his last 14 races and received a lot of professional acclaim, Alysheba because he gave McCarron his first Kentucky Derby (gr. I) victory, and finally back-to-back Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Tiznow.

"Tiznow proved at 46 and 47 years old, Chris McCarron could still get the job done," the jockey said.

As for the people, he most admired, McCarron named jockeys Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay Jr., and his brother, Gregg. He said his brother was always there for him in the early years and "schooled him properly" about riding and jockey room politics.

"If I got chastised by another jock, he could say, 'Yeah that guy was right and this is why', or he could say, 'Don't listen to him, he is always crying.'"

McCarron said Shoemaker was the epitome of a professional.

"All you had to do was follow Shoe and do what he did and you couldn't go wrong," he said. McCarron said he admires Pincay's incredible discipline and toughness.

After he rests, McCarron said he is looking forward to new challenges particularly with the Jockeys' Guild and the issue of developing national medication rules.

"I look at it this way," he said. "My left hand is full of riding feats and money won and I'm very proud of that. As far as the game goes, I am satiated. In my right hand, there are other thing I have been involved in like the Jockeys Guild and national mediation rules. I'm leaning toward the right. It will be bittersweet, though."

McCarron helped organize a controversial and bitterly-fought management
change of the Jockeys' Guild last year. The change was referred to as a coup by some jockeys. McCarron said he believes the Guilds' situation has stabilized and more jockeys than not support the changes.

Membership of the Guild was about 700 when the transition occurred, now it has grown to about 840, according to McCarron.

"Our finances have stabilized," he said. "We were losing money for 15 years straight. We have stopped the bleeding."

Through a stronger organization, McCarron said he hopes to encourage more promotion of riders as stars of the sport.

"You don't see other sports promoting themselves. They aren't selling basketball, they are selling the Kobe Bryants," he said. "I'm not saying we need to forget about the horses, but their careers are so brief and fleeting that it is difficult for the public to latch onto."

McCarron said he also wants to do more to help jockeys who are never among or near the nation's top 100 riders who, according to his estimates garner about 70% of total purses available.

"Jockeys farther down are not only making less money, they are taking more risks on cheap horses," McCarron said. "We are trying to improve the conditions for those riders. We want to find a way to make conditions better and relieve some of the financial burden."