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Apprentice Jockey McMahon, 17, On a Roll at First Fair Grounds Meet

Apprentice jockey C. J. McMahon has only been riding professionally at recognized race tracks for nine months, but he’s already shown that he knows how to make a good first impression.

The youngster accepted the first mount of his fledgling career on April 6 – opening day of the 2011 season at Evangeline Downs – and then went on a to win his first race on that day. However, he kept on winning after that, enjoying his summer as a 16-year-old, when most boys get their first driver’s licenses, by visiting the winner’s circle repeatedly for a record that increasingly demanded attention, even from the more discerning horsemen steeped in the rich history of horseracing in their Cajun environs.

But when November came around, the Lafayette-born teenager began the month by celebrating his 17th birthday and then gave himself a noteworthy late birthday present by riding two winners during Thanksgiving’s Opening Day program at Fair Grounds, including the 100th of his career.

Last Sunday, McMahon proved that December hasn’t stopped him – posting a four-win afternoon equaled only at this Fair Grounds session by jockey Rosie Napravnik, Fair Grounds’ leading rider last year. Entering Wednesday’s races, McMahon was third in the Fair Grounds standings behind Napravnik and James Graham.

Those are the sort of teenage antics that could make a mother proud, and indeed she is, living with him at a Metairie apartment to oversee his first professional winter in The Big Easy.

“She was here at the races on Opening Day,” said McMahon, speaking while downing a quick breakfast at the track kitchen during the break in training hours Wednesday morning. “She was very happy for me that day, and she supports me a lot, but that’s no matter what I do – win or lose.”

Not surprisingly, McMahon comes from a racetrack family. His grandfather was small and rode some races at unsanctioned tracks in Louisiana while his father, who shares his first name of Charles, is a still-active Quarter Horse jockey who has also ridden Thoroughbreds. But this young man is Charles Jantzen McMahon, while is father’s full name is Charles Warren McMahon.

“I’ve been riding horses since I was eight years old,” explained the younger McMahon. “I started learning to gallop Quarter Horses by working with my dad and grandpa. But I’ve really learned a lot since I started riding professionally and I’ve also learned a lot more since I’ve come to Fair Grounds this season.

“Now, what I want to do is to keep on learning, win as many races as I can and stay healthy,” McMahon concluded.

Of course, every good student has a good teacher, and McMahon is quick to credit fellow Cajun-born reinsman Kerwin “Boo Boo” Clark with fulfilling that role.

Asked to evaluate his pupil, the 36-year veteran Clark shared some of his teaching methods.

“We watch a lot of film together,” said Clark. “That’s the most important thing we do, by far. I don’t just tell him what he’s doing wrong when he makes a mistake, but what he’s doing right when he does something well. But we watch the other riders, too, and I show them what they might have done wrong or what they’ve done right to help them win a race.

“He listens to me,” said Clark. “He’s anxious to learn, and that’s why I continue to work with him the way I do. He has a lot of ability, and horses run well for him. As long as he continues to have the right attitude and continues wanting to learn, he should have a tremendous future in this game.”

Both McMahon and Clark enjoy the services of Tony Martin as their agent, and that Louisiana-born legendary agent brought the then-developing 16-year-old apprentice Joe Talamo to Fair Grounds to win the first race of the 2006-2007 Fair Grounds session and go on to be Fair Grounds’ jockey champion that season. That native of Marrero, Louisiana, of course, has gone on to become one of the leading jockeys on the Southern California circuit.