Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron was feted Sunday night at Keeneland as the honor guest of the Thoroughbred Club of America, and used the opportunity to encourage fellow club members to reform the racing industry.
During his acceptance speech, McCarron revealed that his decision to retire from riding in 2002 was two-fold: part of it was a loss of heart and a fear of incurring more injuries, and the other part was his worries about the direction the sport was heading. An explanation of shockwave therapy was especially impactful on the choice. Fourteen years later, McCarron said he's frustrated that the industry hasn't made the progress he believes it should. He expressed disappointment in the relicensing of trainer Marcus Vitali, a lack of reciprocity of veterinarian's lists, and a slow adoption of the National Uniform Medication Program.
“The RMTC was formed in 2001, and very little progress has been made in spite of all their efforts,” said McCarron. “I know most people in this room don't want to let the federal government get involved, but we don't have any other avenue. Every other avenue has been exhausted, every other effort has been pushed aside.
“To borrow and amend a slogan: ‘Drugs don't kill horses. People kill horses.'”
McCarron referenced a study that appeared in the Journal of American Medical Association in 2000 which stated there are 35 accidents per week involving jockeys, including paddock and gate accidents. An average of two jockeys are killed per year and another two are paralyzed. This year, McCarron noted, the total is already up to three.
“There's a multitude of reasons why this is happening, but the number one reason is discretion: what to do with a horse that's infirm, what to do with a horse that needs rest instead of therapy,” he said. “There's a lot of horses out there running who shouldn't be running, and authorities in this business need to grab hold of those horns and do something about it, and soon. I don't want to see any more of my brethren hitting the deck. It's already dangerous enough riding sound horses in tight fields, and it's already difficult enough.
“I believe that there's enough people in this room with the power to cause some change to happen, and for the good of the horse, for the good of the participants, and for the integrity of the game, something's got to give.”
McCarron also looked back at his storied career, which started with a joking thanks to the various jockeys who gave up mounts McCarron picked up, including Bill Shoemaker, Pat Day, Jerry Bailey, and Victor Espinoza.
“And I want to give a big shoutout ‘You're welcome' to Gary Stevens for making the bonehead decision to take off Silver Charm,” McCarron joked.
McCarron was just the second jockey to be honored in the 85-year history of the TCA testimonial dinner, joining Bill Shoemaker, who was celebrated in 1982.
In his 28 years in the saddle, McCarron won six Triple Crown races, five Breeders' Cup Classics and three other Breeders' Cup races among numerous other Grade and Group stakes. McCarron has previously served as general manager of Santa Anita Park and is the founder and lead instructor of the North American Racing Academy.
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