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PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now, the game where we invite on people who are simply the best at what they do. We invite them on to do something else.

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SAGAL: Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron has won every race a jockey can win, from the Kentucky Derby to - well let's be honest, who cares about anything else.

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SAGAL: He's now teaching others how to be jockeys at the North American Racing Academy, here of Kentucky. Chris McCarron, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! It's a pleasure to have you.

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CHRIS MCCARRON: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.

SAGAL: Now, here we are in horse country, talking to a great jockey who made your career, starting in California, I think, but I just found out that you actually grew up in Dorchester, near Boston.

MCCARRON: Yeah, born and raised in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

SAGAL: How - I've been to Dorchester, how does a Dorchester kid end up in Kentucky as a jockey?

MCCARRON: The hard way.

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SAGAL: Of course.

PETER GROSZ: The wicked hard way.

SAGAL: Seriously, I mean...

MCCARRON: I was just very blessed to be a victim of fate.

SAGAL: Fate.

MCCARRON: Fate.

SAGAL: Like a horse was racing by and all of the sudden you tripped and fell onto it the next thing you know?

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MCCARRON: Actually, no, my older brother Greg, who's seven years my elder, was accidentally introduced to Suffolk Downs in East Boston.

SAGAL: That's a racetrack.

MCCARRON: That's correct. And I just followed him. He came home one day, got kicked in the face, his head was all exploded and everything. I said, I want to do that.

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SAGAL: Now, I'm so curious because I don't know much about horse racing and I certainly don't know much about being a jockey. We read that you at one point actually held the record for the most races in a year. And how many races did you do in the peak of your career per year?

MCCARRON: 2,199 races I rode my first year.

SAGAL: You rode 2,199 races in a year?

MCCARRON: But I got beat 1,500 times.

SAGAL: Right, well.

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SAGAL: And those are the ones you remember.

MCCARRON: Yeah.

SAGAL: So you go out and you race a horse, you jump off that horse, you jump on another horse and race that horse, jump off that horse.

MCCARRON: Uh-huh.

SAGAL: Isn't that exhausting?

MCCARRON: Not when you're young and fit.

SAGAL: Right.

MCCARRON: For me, now it would be, yeah.

SAGAL: I don't know if you ever heard this, but I have heard it said that jockeys are the most fit of all athletes.

MCCARRON: I think we're way up there, I think, but...

SAGAL: But I don't want to disrespect you, but you're not doing the running I can't help but notice.

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SAGAL: You're just kind of hanging on, from what I can tell. Tell me how difficult it is. What is involved in being a successful jockey?

MCCARRON: Number one, balance. You have to have great physical balance. You have to have a lot of stamina.

SAGAL: Right, well obviously.

MCCARRON: It's not brute strength, but in order to perched in a pair of stirrups on a very small saddle on a horse going 40 miles an hour, you have to have a tremendous amount of strength in your legs and your lower back and your arms. But it's more stamina, and it really boils down to technique.

SAGAL: Really? But if you're riding so many different horses in the course of a day, presumably you don't have a chance to bond with a horse, like Elizabeth Taylor does in "National Velvet," right?

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SAGAL: That right there is the extent of my knowledge.

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SAGAL: "National Velvet."

CHARLIE PIERCE: God, not even Seabiscuit.

SAGAL: Honestly.

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SAGAL: I mean but you're jumping on a strange horse and you're going okay, we're going to do this. I mean, are horses different? Do you have to, like, learn what the horse responds to?

MCCARRON: They can be quite different, yes, and a lot of different personalities, lots of different idiosyncrasies. It's a matter of spending good, quality 12 minutes with them before you go in the gate.

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SAGAL: Really?

MCCARRON: Yeah.

SAGAL: Quality time.

MCCARRON: Quality time.

SAGAL: Get to know them.

MCCARRON: Yeah.

SAGAL: How do you get to know a horse? What's like an opening conversational gambit with a horse?

MCCARRON: No, you really have to - you develop a sense, you develop a feel. We rely a great deal on what the trainer has to tell us in the paddock. They'll give us some insight as to whether a horse will respond when you crack them with the crop or if they'll sulk or if they don't like to run inside.

Some horses don't like to be back behind horses and getting all that dirt and sand kicked up in their face. They might resent that. So there are little things that the trainer - I resented it too.

SAGAL: Oh sure.

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MCCARRON: I much prefer to go to the lead.

SAGAL: Right.

MCCARRON: Much preferred.

SAGAL: How do you respond to the crack with the whip?

MCCARRON: Oh man.

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SAGAL: Because now I'm learning you. I feel like after we're done, I could ride you.

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MCCARRON: I hope not.

SAGAL: So do horses really - are they competitive? They want to win?

MCCARRON: Oh, incredibly competitive.

SAGAL: Really?

MCCARRON: They're bred to run. You know, thoroughbreds are truly, truly bred to run and they enjoy it. I firmly believe that they really love to get out there and participate in the competition. It's a huge thrill to be sitting on one's back in a starting gate, standing still and all of the sudden the gates fly open and you're going 40 miles an hour in three strides. It's a fantastic feeling.

SAGAL: Right. If the horse doesn't want to go, how do you motivate them? Do you show it the movie "Seabiscuit"?

MCCARRON: If you want to eat tonight.

SAGAL: Really?

MCCARRON: Yeah.

SAGAL: Wow.

MCCARRON: No, again, it's a matter of getting to know the horse and relying on what the trainer has to say with regard to what can you do on this horse's back that's going to get the best out of him. How are you going to get that horse to best cooperate for you and with you.

Sometimes it's the use of the crop and other times it's just pumping with your hands.

SAGAL: Just grabbing those reins and pumping with your hands.

MCCARRON: Yeah.

SAGAL: Are you able to translate any of the skills you learned as a jockey to your personal life?

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MCCARRON: I thought you were going to say to my students.

SAGAL: No, no, no. You've raced some very famous horses, including a Triple Crown winner.

MCCARRON: You know, I didn't win the Triple Crown.

SAGAL: Oh, I'm sorry.

MCCARRON: I appreciate the credit.

SAGAL: Yeah, I thought you did.

MCCARRON: But, no, I won each one of the Triple Crown races twice, but I never actually got all three of them in one year.

SAGAL: In the same year and the same horse. That's what you have to...

MCCARRON: Right. I won them consecutively. But I won the Preakness - I mean I won the Belmont in '86, the Derby and the Preakness in '87. So that's three in a row.

SAGAL: Absolutely.

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SAGAL: It counts as far as I'm concerned. The horses, when they do really well, they tend to become very famous, even among non-horse racing people, but the jockeys less so. Does that ever bother you that the horses...

MCCARRON: All the time.

SAGAL: Really?

MCCARRON: Yeah.

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SAGAL: Do you get bitterly jealous?

MCCARRON: I'm doing all the work up there for crying out loud.

SAGAL: I know.

MCCARRON: They're bred to run. I'm not bred to ride.

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SAGAL: I know.

MCCARRON: I had to learn how to do that.

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SAGAL: And the oats they give you aren't as good. And you're like, oh...

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SAGAL: It's terrible.

GROSZ: And they get to have a lot more fun in retirement than he does.

MCCARRON: Yeah, that's right. That's right.

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MCCARRON: Yeah, 140 mares in four months, five months.

SAGAL: Really? Yeah, I was about to - you've retired from racing, so did they put you out to stud?

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SAGAL: Wouldn't that be...

MCCARRON: Yeah, but the fee is very, very minimal.

SAGAL: I understand.

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SAGAL: Well, Chris McCarron, it is a pleasure to have you with us, but we have asked you here to play a game we're calling?

CARL KASELL, HOST:

On your marks, get ready, squirm.

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SAGAL: Sure, you're a Hall of Fame jockey but as far as we know your career has been limited to horses. But people like to race other things. We're going to ask you three questions about different kinds of racing around the world. Get two of these questions right, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is Chris McCarron playing for?

KASELL: Chris is playing for Barbara Sternberer of Lexington.

SAGAL: All right, ready to go?

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SAGAL: How confident are you feeling?

MCCARRON: I'm ready. Ready, Barbara? We're ready.

SAGAL: Do you have like a mental thing you go through when you're starting a competition?

Just like that.

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SAGAL: My god, he's ripping me. Stop.

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SAGAL: All right, ever mind. The first turtle race in America happened, as far as we know, in Chicago in 1911. This race reportedly featured what? A: child jockeys sitting on top of the turtles, holding out sticks with pieces of cabbage?

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SAGAL: B: each turtle getting a flashy name, like Lightning McGurk and Spirit of Rapidity?

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SAGAL: Or C: the winning turtle owner getting the loser turtles as a prize, in the form of turtle soup.

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MCCARRON: Oh boy. I hate to say it, but I think it's the soup.

SAGAL: You think it's the soup?

MCCARRON: Uh-huh.

SAGAL: No, I'm afraid it was actually the child jockeys sitting on top of the turtle.

MCCARRON: Really?

SAGAL: Big turtles, these land tortoises, and their kids would sit there holding the cabbage. The winner's name was lost to history, but it was the first person to crawl out...

MCCARRON: Awesome.

SAGAL: All right, the next question. Brisbane, Australia is the home of the annual championships in what sport? A: cockroach racing? B: slime mold racing? Or C: inch worm racing?

MCCARRON: Cricket.

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SAGAL: Interestingly enough, that was not an option.

MCCARRON: Oh.

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GROSZ: But it's a better answer.

SAGAL: You improved it. It was fast though. It was good.

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SAGAL: Cockroaches, slime mild or inch worms?

MCCARRON: Cockroaches.

SAGAL: Yes, it's cockroaches, very good.

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SAGAL: Annual cockroach racing championship happens in Brisbane, Australia. Thousands of people come to watch. They are all drunk.

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SAGAL: All right, this is exciting. You're making a charge from the rear, as I think you might say.

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SAGAL: Coming up on the rail. Did I get that wrong? I'm sorry.

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SAGAL: What do I know?

MCCARRON: It's coming from behind.

SAGAL: I'm from New Jersey. We bet on dice. All right.

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SAGAL: So here you go, you're coming along, you're coming along and you can win this now if you get this one right. Let's say you want to do some racing in the privacy of your own home. For very little money, a very reasonable price, you can buy a kit that would allow you to competitively race what? A: head lice? B: sea monkeys? Or C: your own infant children?

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MCCARRON: Sea monkeys.

SAGAL: Yes, sea monkeys.

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SAGAL: Sea monkey racing. Sea monkey racing game kit, discontinued but available online. It comes with a racetrack, pump and of course, little checkered flags.

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SAGAL: Carl, how did Chris McCarron do on our quiz?

KASELL: Chris did very well, Peter, two correct answers, so he wins for Barbara Sternberger.

SAGAL: All right, very good.

MCCARRON: All right, Barbara.

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SAGAL: Now, we'd like you to stand here in the winner's circle with this wreath of flowers around Carl's neck, if you don't mind.

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SAGAL: How does this victory compare to some of the others in your career?

MCCARRON: Oh, it's the best.

SAGAL: Really?

MCCARRON: Well the last one you won is always the best.

SAGAL: Absolutely.

MCCARRON: So I like it.

SAGAL: Chris McCarron is a Hall of Fame jockey and director of the North American Racing Academy, part of the Kentucky Community Technical College.

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MCCARRON: Thank you.

SAGAL: Chris McCarron, thank you so much.

MCCARRON: Thank you.

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Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!