Earlier this month Darrel McHargue became the first jockey to win$6 million quietly in a single season. Sometime during the next four days he confidently expects to cap this achievement by winning anther $53,332 and setting the world record for a single year's purse earnings.
If his expectation is correct, McHargue will break Steve Cauthen's 1977 record with comparatively little fanfare. Both in the East and the West, even in his year of achievement, McHargue has ridden in the shadows of better-known or better-publicized jockeys. And outwardly, at least, hecouldn't care less.
"If you learn what you're doing and win races, the recognition will take care of itself," says Mchargue, an Oklahoman who learned much of his trade on Maryland race tracks and who seems, at 24 too modest and self-effacing to be a successful professional athlete.
This year the formal recognition has finally come, as McHargue believed it would in 1975 when he headed west after marrying Pat Passmore, daughter of veteran Maryland jockey Bill Passmore.
This year, McHargue has been voted the Eclipse Award as the nation's best rider, a recognition he coveted even more than breaking Cauthen's record. He also has won the George Wolff Memorial Award and the Seven Crown Award. He set records at Santa Anita for moeny won ($2,262,537) and stakes won (14).
His best day in racing came when he won the Santa Anita Handicap aboard Vigors and rode six winners, tying another recrod. As a career high point, McHargue ranks that achievement with winning the Preakness on Master Derby in 1975.
On Tuesday, the traditional day-after-Christmas opening at Santa Anita, McHargue rode three winners and two third-place finishers for a day's earnings of $36,050.
Characteristically, none of the winning Mchargue horses were favorites. On a track long dominated by the steadiness of Bill Shoemaker and the flashy riding style of Laffit Pincay, McHargue continues to ride horses that frequently are betting overlays.
The crowd of 47,668 was cheering for McHargue Tuesday after he rode consecutive winners in the second and third races. But they weren't betting on him.
In the fourth race McHargue was aboard Copper Mel, a 6-year-old of good breeding and dubious speed whose preferred style is to lag far off the pace and then pass tired horses in the stretch. Predictably, Copper Mel freugently finishes in the money but seldom in front.
This time McHargue kept Copper Mel near the pace in the 1 1/8-mile race, took the lead inside on the far turn and held on to score a rare victory. The minority of Santa Anitans who were betting McHargue collected $13.40 for the victory.
Afterwards, McHargue was praising his horse, who, he said, "really surprised me by wanting to run today." In other interviews before the day was out McHargue also praised the day was out McHargue also praised his agent Scotty McClellan for getting him good mounts, his wife, several jockeys, various trainers and the condition of the Santa Anita track.
In his one disappointing effort of the day, a fifth-place finish in the feature race aboard a 3-1 horse named O Big A1, McHargue blamed himself for using up the horse too early.
Behind the modesty and the sharing of credit with others, however, lurks a steady determination to establish himself as the nation's top rider. McHargue says that he and McClellan believed as far back as last June at Hollywood Park that he could top Cauthen's all-time single year's money winnings of $6,151,750.
In an effort to accomplish this goal, McHargue rode steadily in California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Louisians, Florida and Nebraska as well as making a single day's appearance at Bowie.But McHargue overdid himself in November when he was riding days in New York and nights in New Jersey, frequently aboard longshots.
"I was just burning myself out,"he said. "I didn't have time to myself or with my wife,"
McHargue responded to this self-induced pressure by taking a week off with the Passmores in Maryland and then skiing for a few days. He resumed the chase in November with three good days at Bay Meadows, near San Francisco, before heading south for Santa Anita.
Engering the final week of the year, McHargue needed to average $18,000 in purse winnings a day to break $18,000 in purse winnings a day to break Cauthen's record. He doubled that figure Tuesday, leaving him in a confident mood today, a dark day at Santa Anita. His confidence hasn't been diminished by totaling his earnings for the year, which roughly come to a tenth of his purse earnings, or $600,000.
McHargue figures he will need either two winners a day for four days, beginning today, or "one or two big ones" to break the record he calls "icing on the cake" of the Eclipse Award. His best chance for a big one will come Saturday when he rides Roman Oblisk in the $75,000 Cal Breeders' Stakes.
Around the California tracks McHargue is known as a consistent hard worker who learns from other jockeys and pracices his trade in a quiet, competitive way. He fights to keep down his weight (113) with diet and exercist.
On his final day off this year, McHargue was up before dawn to work out a horse at 6:30 a.m. and then go on to a tennis game.
"You can't get anything doen by staying in bed," he smiled. And in the waning days of the old year, McHargue means to get a lot done at Santa Anita. CAPTION: Picture, Darrel McHargue acknowledge cheers after winning the $300,000 Santa Anita Handicap aboard Vigors. AP