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From Cleaning Horse Stalls To Riding High and Making Millions

Cochrane’s Chris McGregor, a retired jockey with more than 20 years of experience, will be inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame.

You don’t have to be born here to be Albertan. 

All you need is the right attitude and a hard work ethic. 

Chris McGregor, a 65-year-old from Cochrane, is proof of that. 

McGregor during one of his races | Western Wheel

McGregor spent more than 20 years as a jockey before retiring in 2006. 

The athlete boasted 2,248 victories and earned over $13 million since he started racing in 1979. 

McGregor’s journey as a jockey began when his family moved to the province from Switzerland years ago. 

He always had an appetite for competition, but his 5’1” stature held him back in most sports.

But everything changed after McGregor watched a horse race at the Millarville track south of Calgary. 

In an instant, he knew horse racing was the sport for him.

While there is no height restriction to be a jockey, there are weight requirements. 

These requirements are different for every horse race.

According to Bustle, weight requirements range from 112 to 126 pounds, including the jockeys and seven pounds of gear on the horse. 

Because of the weight requirements, most jockeys tend to fall between 4’10” and 5’6” tall. McGregor was the perfect fit, literally.

“I remember thinking to myself, “I’m the right size. I only weigh about 112 pounds. I’m an athlete. I could probably do that,” McGregor told Horse Racing Alberta.

Hard Work Beats Talent

So, at 16, McGregor quit school to start working at a horse race track, cleaning stalls. 

He cleaned stalls for four years before he became a horse trainer.

“I worked hard at the track. I groomed horses for two years. But still, nobody would give me a chance to ride the horses I worked with in the mornings in a race,” said McGregor.

An example of a crash that broke a jockeys jaw |

“It hurt my heart. I felt used. I was really getting depressed,” he continued.

No one would give McGregor the time of day, let alone the chance to prove himself in a race. 

That is until he met Dale Saunders, one of our province’s all-time leading horse conditioners. 

After working under Saunders for three years, McGregor finally found himself on the back of a horse as a jockey. He was off to the races.

But McGregor wasn’t a natural born when it came to jockeying. 

In 1979, he only won two races out of 30 attempts. 

McGregor earned his success through hard work. He would show up at the track at five in the morning to train. 

“Often, I’d be the only rider there at that time of the day. I wondered where everybody else was. Racing was fun. The track is where I wanted to be,” said McGregor. 

His effort began to pay off in 1987, winning one out of four races and placing in the top three over half the time.

By the 1990s, McGregor’s winning skills were undeniable. 

In 1990 and 1992, he won more races than any other rider in Canada, winning 229 in 1990 and 204 in 1992.  

Overcoming Obstacles

McGregor also faced many challenges. 

One of the biggest hurdles McGregor faced in his career was a serious injury that left him in the hospital.

During a race in Calgary in 1991, McGregor and his horse crashed, crushing three of the jockey’s vertebrae and breaking his back. 

“I was in a race in Calgary and just hit the wire; a horse came over on me, and I ended up clipping heels and went down. So that wasn’t too much fun,” said McGregor.

Severe head and spine injuries are among the worst injuries a jockey can sustain. But nothing would stop McGregor from enjoying the sport he loved.

A year later, he was back in the saddle. According to McGregor, being fit as a jockey is just as important as any other sport.

“When you crash and you’re fit, usually you can walk away– but not all the time,” he explained.

Being a jockey involved injuries, but the milestones McGregor achieved throughout his career made the journey worth it.

Jockey cabinet at the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame | Western Wheel
Jockey cabinet at the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame | Western Wheel

The Recognition He Deserves 

One of McGregor’s most memorable accomplishments was receiving the Most Improved Rider award. 

Other jockeys voted on the award, and the recognition from his peers made it an honour to receive. 

“They picked me, and that was a big thing because it’s coming from riders. To me, it meant a lot,” said McGregor.

Since retiring in 2006, being inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, located in Red Deer, has been a dream of McGregor’s.

“I was curious and kept thinking it would be really special if I could ever get in. I stopped once, but the doors were locked,” he said.

But those doors are wide open now. McGregor will be inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame on May 24. 

He is joining three other legendary jockeys: Johnny Longden, Jimmy Fitzsimmons, and Sandy Shields. 

McGregor is proof that hard work pays off. 

When the odds are stacked against you, what matters most is seeing the journey through to the end.

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