Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron looks back at Pine Bluff’s victory in the 1992 Preakness Stakes with great fondness, not just for the satisfaction of returning “home” to score a classic win, but also for the unique way he wound up with the mount.
McCarron, a Massachusetts native whose career skyrocketed in Maryland when he set a world record with 546 victories in 1974, had long since moved his base to Southern California by spring 1992.
McCarron, however, was in position at Pimlico a week before the Preakness to take advantage when the opportunity arose to ride Pine Bluff, who finished fifth with Craig Perret up in the Kentucky Derby behind upset winner Lil E. Tee, whom he had defeated by a neck in the Arkansas Derby. McCarron had guided the English invader Dr Devious to a seventh-place finish in the Derby.
At Pimlico a week after the Derby, McCarron was there to ride a horse in that day’s Pimlico Special when he heard through the grapevine that trainer D. Wayne Lukas was prevailing on the stewards to hold Mike Smith to a commitment to ride Big Sur for him in the Preakness Stakes, while Smith preferred to ride the Tom Bohannon-trained Pine Bluff. Perret had taken off Pine Bluff for the Preakness, opting to ride Alydeed.
McCarron called Bohannon himself to throw his name in the hat for Pine Bluff. Bohannon accepted, and in the Preakness, Pine Bluff went favored at 7-to-2. He launched a long drive from the middle of the track into the stretch before collaring Alydeed inside the final 70 yards, inching away to win by three-quarters of a length. Lil E. Tee finished fifth, while Big Sur and Smith faded to finish 11th after setting the pace.
“I was just in the right place at the right time and it turned out to be the right horse,” said McCarron, who also captured the Preakness in 1987 on Alysheba. “I just loved winning a big race in Maryland, since that’s where I got started.”
Pine Bluff went on to finish third in the Belmont Stakes in what turned out to be his final start. He was a stallion for many years in Kentucky, Arkansas, and Texas before dying at age 25 in 2014.
McCarron had a unique perspective on the disqualification of Maximum Security and elevation of Country House in the Derby two weeks ago, given McCarron’s credentials as a jockey and also as the founder and retired teacher at the North American Racing Academy.
“I thought the disqualification was the right call,” said McCarron, who was at Churchill Downs on Derby day. “Like a lot of people, I was a little surprised they didn’t post the inquiry sign. I do think suspending [Luis] Saez for 15 days was a little extensive but overall the stewards had a tough call and I think it was the right one.”
According to statistics compiled by BRISnet, McCarron shares the distinction, along with Kent Desormeaux and Pat Day, of winning three Grade 1 races via disqualification in their careers.
One of them happened to involve Country House’s trainer, Bill Mott, in the 1992 Hollywood Turf Cup. McCarron and Bien Bien were promoted to the victory in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup over Mott’s Fraise, who had finished first.
“Fraise won like he was the best horse,” Mott said about an hour after the Kentucky Derby, using a phrase Maximum Security’s connections have invoked in the last two weeks. “It was controversial, but you know, [stuff] happens.