Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron has excelled on many tracks over the years, most notably as the winning jockey in the 1987 and 1994 Kentucky Derby. But he also has plenty of history riding in Shakopee at Canterbury Park, a track he still considers special. McCarron, 61, was in town last week to promote the Leg Up Fund at Canterbury, which offers financial assistance to injured jockeys. While in town he took time to chat with the Star Tribune's Michael Rand about Canterbury and next weekend's 142nd Kentucky Derby:
Q For anyone who hasn't even been to the Kentucky Derby — let alone competed and won — how do you explain how special that event is?
A: To begin with, it's the biggest prize we have in our sport. It's the prize that every horseman who wakes up in the morning whether you're a jockey, owner, trainer or groom, they all dream about participating in the Derby. When you actually get to do it and participate in the race in any capacity — once you've done it once you know you want to do it again. It's just something you long to do. It never gets old. I rode in 18 of them and the 18th one was every bit as exciting as the first one. And unless you go there and get to see the throng of 140,000 people and experience the electricity in the air, television just doesn't do it justice.
Q Is any particular aspect more vivid memorywise for you looking back?
A I will never, ever forget after Alysheba won in 1987 and I got done on the podium, I was escorted to the press elevator by two cops and two bodyguards. We had to walk through the crowd in the grandstand to get to the press elevator, and I had a big guy behind me and a big guy in front of me. One of them said hold on to my belt, hold on to your helmet because people are going to be reaching and grabbing to try to get something. I felt like a rock star or a prize fighter. I remember it like it was yesterday.
Q Anything about this year's race stand out to you?
A Well, the fact that Nyquist is undefeated is pretty interesting. I think he's the deserved favorite. He likes to stay up close. I think the horse he has to beat has the opposite style, a horse called Creator.
Q How did you get involved with the Leg Up Fund at Canterbury?
A It's important to me because it's taken the place of a charity I co-founded back in 1987 that raised over $3 million in a 20-year period to help about 1,600 jockeys and their families. … The folks at Canterbury took it upon themselves to start a new fund and, of course, I'm happy to fully support the Leg Up Fund as well.
Q It seems as though you've maintained a pretty strong connection to Canterbury over the years. Why this track in particular special to you?
A It is because it's such a well-run facility. It was well-run back then and it's still well-run today. I was very pleased when I arrived on the property [last week] and I got a tour of the back stretch to see what great condition it's in. Some of these tracks around the country are in terrible disrepair. I was happy to see Canterbury looks great. … They provide the horsemen, the jockeys and the owners good money and hospitality. Providing that makes you want to come back.