Darrel G. McHargue

Darrel McHargue rode his first winner in 1972 at Arlington Park and quickly ascended to the top of his profession. By the end of the decade, he had set records, won prestigious awards, and earned the respect of his peers and racing fans for being one of thoroughbred racing’s greatest riders.

Darrel McHargue in the paddock, October 1985 (Keeneland Library Thoroughbred Times Collection)
Inducted

2020

Born

Sept. 22, 1954, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Career

1972-1988

Wins

2,553

Earnings

$39,609,526

Racing Record

16.24

Win %

Biography

Darrel McHargue rode his first winner in 1972 at Arlington Park and quickly ascended to the top of his profession. By the end of the decade, he had set records, won prestigious awards, and earned the respect of his peers and racing fans for being one of thoroughbred racing’s greatest riders.

McHargue, however, didn’t have the longevity in the irons many of the top riders from his era enjoyed. Successful into the mid-1980s, McHargue retired in 1988 after a career of 17 years. With the exception of Steve Cauthen, who rode from 1976 through 1992, all of the other Hall of Fame jockeys who began their careers in the 1970s — Jerry Bailey, Russell Baze, Pat Day, Chris McCarron, Randy Romero, and Gary Stevens — each rode for more than a quarter-century. But what McHargue lacked in career length he more than made up for with an exceptional volume of elite accomplishments.

Those accomplishments finally landed McHargue a spot among the all-time greats with his election to the Hall of Fame in 2020, more than 30 years after he retired, and he was officially enshrined alongside the class of 2021.

“I certainly didn’t expect it,” McHargue said of his election to the Hall by the National Museum of Racing’s Historic Review Committee. “It’s a phenomenal honor and really surreal when you think about who else is in there.”

A native of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, McHargue won 2,553 races with purse earnings of $39,609,526. In 1978, he won both the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey and the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award. That year, McHargue set a North American earnings record of $6,188,353, breaking the previous mark set by Cauthen in 1977. McHargue topped all riders with 37 stakes wins in that Eclipse year and finished second nationally with 375 wins. 

At that point, McHargue was already established as a star. In 1974, he won a career-best 405 races, ranking second in all of North America (behind McCarron, who set a new record that year with 546 wins). In 1974, McHargue began a six-year streak of ranking in top 10 nationally in annual earnings. In 1975, he won a Triple Crown race with a victory in the Preakness Stakes aboard Master Derby.

“Sometimes you’re just born under a lucky star and things go your way,” McHargue said. “Everything that was out there, if I wanted it, it came my way. Reality hit later on, but at that period of my life, it was just one thing after another.”

Equibase began compiling graded stakes data in 1976. From then through 1988, McHargue won 79 graded races, including Grade 1 victories in the Arlington-Washington Futurity, Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap, San Juan Capistrano Handicap, Hopeful Stakes, San Antonio Stakes, Charles H. Strub Stakes, Swaps Stakes, Santa Anita Handicap, Sunset Handicap, San Luis Rey Stakes, Hollywood Invitational Handicap, Oak Leaf Stakes, Santa Anita Derby, and Hollywood Derby. McHargue won six graded stakes with Hall of Famer John Henry and also won stakes aboard Hall of Famers Ancient Title and My Juliet. His other standout mounts included General Assembly, Run Dusty Run, and Vigors, among others.

McHargue won six races on a single card at Santa Anita in both 1978 and 1979, but his success was not limited to North America. During the 1980s, he rode in both Ireland and England, where his stakes victories included the 1984 Irish St. Leger at the Curragh and the 1984 Jockey Club Cup at Ascot.

“In my book, he’s in the top 10 of all time,” McCarron said of McHargue. “He was one hell of a race rider, he taught me a lot. He was a very savvy rider and really knew what he was doing. Looked beautiful on a horse. The first day I rode at Santa Anita, it was late March of ’78, Darrel won six races that day. He won the (Santa Anita Handicap) on the Great White Tornado, Vigors. I was blown away. I said, ‘Look at the money this guy just won today. He had a good year in a day.’ He’s straightforward, he’ll tell you what’s on his mind, a good guy and a good friend.”

Following his career as a jockey, McHargue became a steward in California in 1990, and was named the state’s chief steward in 2015.

“I always had an eye toward that because I knew my career wasn’t going to be a long career, I was hoping it was but knew it wouldn’t be,” McHargue said. “I’ve enjoyed being still part of the game. It’s a totally different set of circumstances. When you’re a jockey, you’re trying to be popular, that’s what gets you on horses, more winners, more winners. This side of the game, if you’re doing the job, correctly, you’re not going to be popular. I would hope people who have been around me as a steward would think of me as being fair, consistent, and firm.”

Achievements

Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey — 1978

Triple Crown Highlights

Won the 1975 Preakness Stakes — Master Derby

Other Highlights

Won the Arlington-Washington Futurity — 1976
Won the Samta Margarita Invitational Handicap — 1977
Won the San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap — 1977, 1980
Won the Hopeful Stakes — 1978
Won the San Antonio Stakes — 1978
Won the Charles H. Strub Stakes — 1978
Won the Swaps Stakes — 1978
Won the Santa Anita Handicap — 1978
Won the Sunset Handicap — 1979
Won the Hollywood Invitational Handicap — 1980
Won the San Luis Rey Stakes — 1980
Won the Oak Leaf Stakes — 1981
Won the Santa Anita Derby — 1981
Won the Hollywood Derby — 1984
Won the Irish St. Leger Stakes — 1984
Won the Jockey Club Cup (England) — 1984

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