06/17/2002 12:00AM

Time to go when fun stops


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron knew it was time to retire when he watched Seinne finish third in the Inglewood Handicap under Eddie Delahoussaye the day after the Kentucky Derby. McCarron had been scheduled to ride the horse, but decided to take off his three Hollywood rides to stay in Kentucky with his wife, Judy.

"I did not feel guilty about not being there," McCarron, 47, said during a 45-minute press conference on Saturday at Hollywood in which he officially announced his retirement. "That was the start. I could feel the flame being extinguished that day. I've been thinking of it since."

At times during his press conference, McCarron paused to collect his emotions. "I said when I stop having fun and feeling the excitement, that would be the occasion," he said.

Earlier this month, McCarron told Judy that 2002 would definitely be his last year. He intended to ride until the Breeders' Cup "and go out with a splash," he said.

A subsequent conversation changed his mind. "Judy said, 'You're not happy are you?' " McCarron recalled. "I said, 'Not really.' She said, 'You're ready now, aren't you.' "

He reached the decision after talking with his brother, Gregg, a retired jockey.

"I talked with Gregg for two hours," McCarron said. "As usual, he was great."

McCarron will end his illustrious career Sunday at Hollywood Park, and his last stakes race will be aboard Came Home in the Affirmed Handicap. McCarron finished sixth in the May 4 Kentucky Derby on Came Home.

Last Friday, McCarron began telling friends of his decision, notably Delahoussaye, 50, and Laffit Pincay Jr. 55, riders with whom he had competed since the late 1970's.

"Eddie said, 'You can't do that to me,' " McCarron said. "I told a few people I go to the track every day to beat Delahoussaye and here I am beating him out the door."

McCarron will ride at Hollywood Park on Wednesday, travel to Texas on Thursday for the NTRA All-Star Jockey Championship at Lone Star Park on Friday night, and ride at Hollywood Park on Saturday and Sunday. A day of events in his honor will be held at Hollywood Park on Sunday.

Through Sunday, McCarron had won 7,137 races, leaving him sixth on the all-time list. His mounts have earned more than $264 million, more than any jockey in history.

On Saturday, he said the grind of year-round racing had begun to take its toll.

"The real challenge is being up every day," he said. "I've been asked if it ever becomes mundane and it does. Don't get me wrong. It's not like that every day."

In the short-term, he said he will take a fishing vacation with his wife and friends in Alaska next month. He said he plans to sell his home in Sierra Madre, near Santa Anita, and move his family to Carlsbad, Calif., in the northern San Diego suburbs, near Del Mar.

McCarron said he does not want to train - "It would be like going from the frying pan into the fire," he said - but would like to stay involved with the Jockeys' Guild and possibly do television work.


1 Laffit Pincay Jr.*9,376
2 Bill Shoemaker8,833
3 Pat Day*8,262
4 Rusell Baze*7,840
5 David Gall7,396
6 Chris McCarron*7,137
7 Angel Cordero Jr.7,057
8 Jorge Velasquez6,795
9 Sandy Hawley6,449
10 Larry Snyder6,388

1 Chris McCarron*$264,166,567
2 Pat Day*262,342,528
3 Laffit Pincay Jr.*229,845,830
4 Jerry Bailey*228,701,468
5 Gary Stevens*204,843,899

* Active; statistics through June 16