Last Saturday, the Dorchester native and famous jockey Chris McCarron stood again in the winner’s circle at Suffolk Downs Race Track’s 75th anniversary celebration.
During his long racing career, McCarron won 7,141 races and a record $264 million in race purses while riding six winners at the Triple Crown races of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont. He retired at age 47 in 2002 and now runs a school that trains jockeys. Several of those he trained, including women riders, were on hand to greet him at the celebration.
I thought McCarron had grown up on Elmdale Street, off Adams Street, but he told me Saturday when I asked, that he lived on Shenandoah Street off of Gallivan Boulevard. Got to get the facts right.
McCarron told some of his story to the crowd while standing where he had stood in with the winners he rode at the Massachusetts Handicap race. He was only interested in hockey growing up in he late ’60s and early ’70s. Those were the years of the legendary Boston Bruins teams of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito that had both fans and non-fans of hockey all tuned to their TV sets every night the team played. It was also a time when hockey rinks like the one at Neponset Circle sprang up across the landscape.
McCarron related that his older brother Gregg was the first to get involved in racing and when he’d come home still smelling of the race track, everyone in the family of nine kids would make fun of him. But Chris followed that smell to the track himself. On his first mount in 1974, he finished last but then went on to win a record 546 races that year including beating his brother Gregg by a nose in the record-setting ride.
The legendary horse Seabiscuit once ran at Suffolk Downs as a wild horse with a losing record. But not long after that, he made his climb to acclaim as one of the most popular and successful horses in American history. And my wife reminds me that she was at the famous Beatles concert held there on Aug. 18, 1966.
Suffolk Downs is in the news a lot now as the pending state gambling bill will determine if it is allowed to install slot machines as a life-line to keep the track (and its 1,000 jobs) economically viable. Seeing how many people at the track on Saturday were older than my 59 years made it clear to me that this business needs a new strategy to keep going. This same bill holds the potential for Suffolk to win a “multi-year-fecta” jackpot bonus by being picked as the site for one of the three destination casinos the legislation is expected to create.
Lew Finfer is a Dorchester resident.