Updated on 09/15/2011 1:36PM

A multi-tasking Mr. McCarron

Michael J. Marten

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - For those who forgot what he looked like, that was Chris McCarron who blew into Hollywood Park last Saturday, won five races, lost a close one for a sixth, then disappeared into the holiday mist without leaving so much as a silver bullet or a calling card.

Have Tack, Will Travel.

McCarron's nifty five-pack was soured by his lone ride on Sunday, when his first collaboration with the Chilean horse Penamacor went terribly wrong during the final stages of the Native Diver Handicap. Penamacor fractured his right hind ankle so severely that the only humane option was euthanasia.

As a result, McCarron can be forgiven if he ended the weekend with a case of emotional whiplash. The quality of the horses he rides these days reduces the chances of a Penamacor disaster. Yet they happen, with the unpredictability of a train wreck. And winning five races on a single program occurs about as often as a visit from Ed McMahon with a check from Publisher's Clearing House.

McCarron couldn't remember the last time it happened. But then, it's not his job. The good people in the Santa Anita stats department came up with April 6, 1991, when an audience of 60,572 watched him win the Santa Anita Derby on Dinard and four more races for good measure.

That year McCarron rode 1,440 horses and led the nation with $14.4 million in purse earnings. For the year 2001, the 46-year-old rider will be hard pressed to reach 600, and yet his purse total already has surpassed $12.3 million. McCarron is nothing if not efficient.

Still, scaling an average of barely two mounts a card, it is to McCarron's credit that he even remembers where they put the finish line, or which end of the horse faces front. Between sunset on Dec. 2 and his first mount at about 2 p.m. on Dec. 8, he had ridden in exactly one race. When he showed up on Saturday, looking at a dance card with six live mounts, he must have thought another guy named McCarron had hit town.

"To be frank," McCarron said, "I'm surprised at my ability to focus when I get to work lately, because of the other things going on in my life in this industry. Somehow, though, I've figured out a way not to let it affect the way I am riding in the afternoon."

The distractions are plentiful. McCarron sits on the board of directors of no less than four high-profile racing organizations: the Internet wagering company Youbet.com, the charitable Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund, the promotional Kids to the Cup, and the Jockeys' Guild.

It is the Guild that occupies most of McCarron's time. He was a Guild director in 1995 when the issue of insurance brought the industry to the brink of a jockey walkout, averted only by eleventh-hour negotiations. McCarron left the Guild shortly after that, citing conflicts over fund-raising issues with his work on the MacBeth Fund, which he founded along with his wife, Judy, and comedian Tim Conway.

"I was very distracted, and I felt it was affecting my riding," McCarron said of the threatened 1995 walkout. "This time around it's not. I've observed people who run huge companies - people like Marty Wygod and Terri Lanni - and I'm in awe. How could they do all those things? They're like a Pentium Four, 800 megaherz, 14 gig hard drive that does all this multi-tasking.

"What it takes is proper allocation of time. Set up a schedule and stick to it. I do find I'm staying up a little later, which is maybe not a great thing. At least I'm not watching nearly as much television as I used to.

"But when I think about the things I'm doing right now, it's absolutely crazy," McCarron added. "I can understand why Judy gets flustered with me sometimes for not giving her enough time. About five years ago, I told her I was going to start slowing down, going places and doing things we enjoy. It ain't happened yet!"

Events moved swiftly when McCarron rejoined the Guild's board of directors last spring. He was instrumental in the change of Guild management that resulted in the resignation of former Guild president Pat Day and the exit of Guild executive director John Giovanni. An operational team run by Dr. Wayne Gertmanian, a friend of McCarron's, has been running the Guild ever since.

Last week the Guild announced that a health insurance program had been restored for members and their families. A five-winner day was nice, but for McCarron, the resolution of the insurance issue brought a more permanent feeling of satisfaction.

"It's way above any accomplishment I could ever hope for on the racetrack, and I can't even take any credit for it," he said. "The people we got in place were able to get it done, but to be involved in getting those people involved is extremely gratifying."

McCarron found himself the lightning rod for criticism in the wake of the Guild shake-up. While he maintained a "no comment" policy in public, the sniping continued, typified by the comment last week of Daily Racing Form columnist Stan Bergstein, who described McCarron as "the man who turned the Jockeys' Guild into a secret society." Was it worth all the personal attacks?

"Absolutely," McCarron replied. "I'm a nice guy, but I can be tough sometimes."

Just ask the guys he rode against last Saturday.