Jun 23, 2008

The Long and Short of It

When the Boston Celtics won the NBA championship it put a smile on Massachusetts native Chris McCarron. Chris may be retired as a Hall of Fame jockey but he is no less busy in the industry, sending out first graduates from his riding school. He’s also done some good commentary on televised races.

The Celtics’ revival brings to mind a funny story he tells. It seems that Chris had been invited to play in a sports celebrity golf tournament. When he stepped on the practice tee he noticed Celtic great Bill Russell.

Chris knew the reputation Russell had as a grumpy, aloof sort of guy. Russell hated to sign autographs, for one thing. Undaunted, Chris approached Russell and said, “I want you to know that you were my idol when I was a kid growing up”.

Whereupon the 6’ 9” Russell peered down at the jockey and said, “Looks to me like you didn’t do much of that”. And then he walked away.


The Triple Crown quest by Big Brown also sparked a memory concerning McCarron.
He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness aboard Alysheba and was heavily favored to take the Belmont. There was a $5 million bonus to a Triple Crown winner in those days so Chris and trainer Jack Van Berg each figured to walk away with a cool half mil if they took the last leg.

When Van Berg walked into the clubhouse some of his pals wished him well. One said that he would need the bonus to cover his wife’s Fifth Avenue shopping jaunts.

“I wanted Alysheba to be right up on the pace so that Bet Twice would not have the pace too slow,” said Van Berg some years later. “And I had told Chris all week long not to get too far away from Bet Twice.

“When he walked into the paddock he had a kind of funny look on his face. He wasn’t listening to me, I don’t think, when I said to stay right with Bet Twice. Looking back, I probably should have given him a little smack to remind him of what I had just said. But I could feel that he had already made up his mind to take back.”

Sure enough, Craig Perret put Bet Twice on the lead and took the field wire to wire.

That day marked the zenith of Van Berg’s colorful career. In time the wife was gone, some real estate investments went sour, and Jack currently trains in relative obscurity in California.