06/23/2002 11:00PM

Slapstick night down in Texas


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - In the fairy-tale career of Chris McCarron, this was the comedy before the drama, the side-splitter before the tear-jerker, the feel-good set-up to the break-you-down finale.

This was the All-Star Jockey Championship, and it was a whole lot of fun. Less than 48 hours before McCarron retired to an emotional farewell at Hollywood Park, he emerged as the winner of the sixth annual All-Star event Friday night at Lone Star Park by riding Yoto Speakes to victory in the fourth and final race of the competition.

The All-Star Championship could not possibly have played out any better. McCarron flew past a half-dozen jockeys in the final furlong of the final race, crossing the wire in full flight while waving his whip in exultation.

Heck, he didn't even wave his whip after winning the 1994 Kentucky Derby on Go for Gin.

"The adrenaline was going unbelievable," McCarron said later. "It was indescribable, how much fun this was."

Indeed, the celebration that unfolded was pure delirium. As his fellow All-Stars surrounded him in the winner's circle, they kept squirting him with bottles of water as he attempted - mostly in vain - to conduct interviews without interruption. Just as soon as McCarron thought all the harassment was done, Alex Solis and David Flores caught him off guard by picking up a huge bucket of ice water and pouring it over his head.

Surely the best part of this outpouring of love was that it was spontaneous. Few in any profession are more appreciated by his colleagues than McCarron. Hugs and high-fives were everywhere.

The late-night scene culminated a long and hectic day. It had started out when his Hall of Fame career was saluted at the annual All-Star luncheon at the track. Then he had been congratulated by hundreds of fans who had lined up that afternoon to shake his hand and get his autograph. Then, after the first race, he was honored with a video montage of his career accomplishments and a winner's circle ceremony.

Even then, his fellow riders could not resist mischief - they took the cake reading "Good Luck and Best Wishes" and crammed it into his face.

Then, as a scorching day faded into a humid night, things only got more fun.

McCarron won the first race of the All-Star competition by guiding Prized Amberpro to a come-from-behind victory over 10 rivals. The jockey returned to the unsaddling area by letting out a boyish yell to the mare's trainer, Scott Gelner.

"Whew! That was fun!" he said.

Gelner, 34, said he could not have been more proud that it was McCarron who rode his horse. A small-time trainer from Vinton, La., Gelner said he had "told him about her. I said he could read the Form, and he knew what to do. He knows his job."

McCarron's mounts were also-rans in the next two races. Sizzlin Mick, ridden by Edgar Prado and trained by veteran Kenny Smith, won the first of those.

The next All-Star race was won by Flynn's Flash, ridden by Flores and trained by Paul Duhon.

Then McCarron captured the final All-Star race when Yoto Speakes, an 8-year-old gray gelding, rallied from far behind to win a five-furlong turf race. McCarron would tease everyone during the post-race interviews by shouting into a microphone, "I'm coming back!"

Of course he was kidding. "I've made up my mind, and it's a decision I'm comfortable with," he said during a rare moment of calm. And then, to neatly summarize both the night and his career, he said: "This is the most exciting thing I've ever done in my life, riding racehorses."

The script was nearly complete. Hollywood would take a final turn. How fun, and how fitting.