He was introduced to the sport of thoroughbred racing by his older brother, jockey Gregg McCarron. Chris McCarron began riding professionally in 1974 at East Coast racetracks where he won the 1974 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey in the United States.
He moved to race in California in 1977, a year he scored his first of three wins in the Kentucky Oaks. In 1980 won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey as best overall jockey and that same year his peers voted him the prestigious George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award. In 1991, he was voted the Mike Venezia Memorial Award for "extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship".
In 1989 Chris McCarron was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. After twenty-eight years in racing he retired in June 2002. He finished as thoroughbred racing's all-time leader in purse earnings with more than $264 million in winnings.
In 2003, McCarron served as a technical advisor, racing designer and actor in the 2003 film Seabiscuit. That same year he was hired by Magna Entertainment Corp. to serve as Vice President and General Manager of Santa Anita Park. After resigning his job at Santa Anita in January 2005, in July McCarron announced he would be opening the first riding academy in the United States.
His school is scheduled to begin classes in December 2006 and will be located at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Most industry insiders and observers consider such a school to be something that the American thoroughbred racing has long needed. McCarron told ESPN he plans to lobby the various racing commissions and other organizations to ensure that there are minimum requirements and standards set for jockeys.