06/20/2008 11:00PM

McCarron's school has first starter

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Jessica Oldham Stith, the first graduate of Hall of Fame rider Chris McCarron's North American Racing Academy, rode her first professional race at River Downs on Tuesday, finishing fifth aboard Greenwood Lady in a $15,000 maiden claiming race.

McCarron began the school in 2006 with a class of 11. Eight of the original 11 have graduated. There were 10 students in the school's second class and there will be 14 in the upcoming sessions that begin in August. McCarron is involved in the day-to-day operations at the Academy, which is located in Lexington, Ky.

"I am there at 6 a.m., and the students arrive at 6:30," he said. "Right now we have 12 horses that need to be fed, and then we tack the horses at about 7:15 and begin."

This fall, a horsemen's program will begin at the school. "We will get into all of the aspects of the industry, from being a groom to commercial breeding," McCarron said. "It will serve the needs of anybody wanting a career in racing."

Stith, 30, is the daughter of John Oldham, best known for his winning ride aboard Rockhill Native in the 1980 Blue Grass Stakes, and equine photographer and former rider Suzie Picou-Oldham. Stith is the granddaughter of former jockey and trainer Clarence Picou.

McCarron was at River Downs for the race and ponied Stith to the gate.

"I am very proud of her," McCarron said. "She took it very seriously and made the dean's list. She has good hands, a good head, and sits well on a horse. And she is bred for it - she is by a jockey, and out of a jockey who is by a jockey."

As for the future of the two-year program, McCarron is very upbeat.

"Since the first of the year I have had 287 inquiries about the program, about 70 percent from people wanting info and applications and the other 30 percent from younger teens wanting to know what they can do now to get ready for the program in a few years," he said. "We have yet to spend a dime on marketing, so when that happens things should really boom."