INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A man of many scripts - mostly compelling ones - Chris McCarron climaxed more than 28 years as a jockey yesterday by riding Came Home to a two-length win in the $107,500 Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park.
It was the 34,230th race and the 7,141st win of McCarron's career, and the $64,500 winner's share boosted the 47-year-old Hall of Famer's record purse total to $264,351,579.
McCarron's second win yesterday came two days after he had made his last out-of-town appearance by riding two winners and taking an all-star jockey competition at Lone Star Park near Dallas. His riding peers doused him with buckets of water that night; on his farewell day, they deluged him with admiration and praise.
Galloping out Came Home after the race, McCarron had a flashback to a snowy, freezing-cold 1974 day in Bowie, Md., where he rode his first race.
"I was wearing three pair of goggles that day," McCarron said. "But I forgot to pull any of them down. From the three-eighths pole to the wire, I couldn't see a thing. It's a good thing I finished last."
McCarron's older brother, Gregg, who had beaten him to the track by several years, also was riding in Maryland.
"No wonder you couldn't see anything," he said. "You didn't use any of your goggles."
About 90 minutes before the Affirmed, in a winner's-circle lovefest attended by McCarron's family, jockeys present and past and owners and trainers McCarron had ridden for over the years, Gregg McCarron sneaked up on his brother. Chris McCarron had been led to believe last week that his brother, with training and grandfatherly duties in Maryland, wouldn't be attending.
They embraced warmly, both in tears. It was Gregg McCarron who encouraged his kid brother to follow him to the track. But Helen McCarron, their mother, thought that one jockey in the family was enough.
"I remember Chris coming down to Maryland between his junior and senior years in high school," Gregg McCarron said. "He got on a horse and was scared to death. I called our mother and told her Chris had nothing to worry about. I told her that he'd never make it. You know, that's the first and only time I've been wrong."
After losing that first race at Bowie, McCarron quickly established himself as a top jockey. He won for the first time on Feb. 7, 1974, at Bowie, and set a record with 546 winners at Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park, Delaware Park and Bowie in his first year.
Three of the five jockeys - the still-active Laffit Pincay and Russell Baze and the retired Bill Shoemaker - who rank ahead of McCarron in wins were part of yesterday's crowd of 16,850.
Choking back tears as he thanked the people who had been part of his riding career, McCarron also provided a light moment, grinning and announcing "an equipment change" and slipping a horse's hood with blinkers over his own head.
Bill Christine is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.