I suppose the key to McCarron is that he remains more a little brother than a little person. While Chris is only 5'2"—and he grew late, to boot—he says, "I never considered myself small. I was very competitive as a kid, a fast runner, a good skater, all that. Then—I remember this very clearly—one day I saw a class picture from when I was a freshman in high school, and I saw how small I really was. I was in shock." He never had any doubt about Gregg's stature. Gregg is Chris's older brother; he became a jockey himself and steered Chris to the track. Gregg is a respectable major league rider in New York, and although he is no match for his younger brother in talent, Gregg remains Chris's lodestar, "the better athlete," who could do everything well, who allowed his kid brother to tag along and gain some confidence, letting him have a peek at all the wonderful mysteries of life that older brothers are privy to.
It was clear when I met little Chrissie that a large part of his early maturity came from something few young athletes possess. And that, simply, is patience. "When I first started," says McCarron now, "I thought 20 years of riding sounded like a nice round figure—especially when I know it's only four, five, six years for a lot of professional athletes in this country. But I figured I could be smart with my money, live comfortably and then go into something else in racing: official, steward, broadcaster. But I hope I'm still about three years away from my peak. I know I'm still learning. And so much of this business is dealing with people, being right in the long run."
He has thought about his craft a lot. "Obviously, anyone who rides well possesses an intangible. It's there with anyone who works well with animals. A lion tamer has something that lets him make the animal comfortable. And the same way with dog trainers, with horse trainers. With a jockey, it's in the hands." The way McCarron talks sometimes, it's almost as if a rider is nothing more than a mystical pair of hands attached to a body, and some intangibles. "It's funny," he goes on. "The first time I saw [Bill] Hartack ride I got annoyed."
"Yeah. Because he's so great, and yet he didn't have that flashy style. Now you see Laffit or Angel [Cordero, Jr.]—that's what a rider should look like. But then there was Hartack, popping up and down, hitting the poor horses in the kidneys with his ass." Pause. "But, you see, who knows with jockeys? The intangibles. Maybe that's exactly what did make them go for Hartack—him hitting them in the kidneys with his ass."
Growing up in Boston, McCarron was a fan of almost every sport but racing. He knows that the best players almost never make good coaches. And he knows, probably for the same reasons, that the best jockeys rarely succeed as trainers. Still, he says, he knows horses, too, and now he thinks he might give up riding early and try training. When he said that, I couldn't help but think of Chris McCarron in the 21st century in the same way that, a bit earlier, Chris McCarron had talked about Bill Shoemaker in the 20th century: "Maybe Shoe's 53, but I don't think he'd even think about his age and retiring, except that other people bring it up all the time. He just loves riding so much."
Why would Chris McCarron ever want to leave either? This has only been the first decade.
As nearly as Bill Bradley could recall, grimacing, the first time anybody wrote about his being a future President was in his senior year at Princeton. I was sure it had happened much earlier. People had always talked about him becoming President. Bradley's the only All-America in any sport I can think of who spent a decade and more playing college, Olympic and NBA ball, and everybody considered it was just a phase he was going through.
"When I came to Princeton, I had two thoughts," he says. "One was that I had visited Oxford and I wanted to go back. I also thought I wanted to be a diplomat.