SC Rewind: Chapman Family Memories (Pt. 1)

SC Rewind: Chapman Family Memories
Published: May 13, 2023 02:10 pm EDT

In today's Rewind,  Robert Smith recalls one of harness racing's longest serving families and delves into their many accomplishments from the past century.  The name Chapman has been around for a very long time and is still with us.  A number of great old photos taken down through the years are included to help tell the story.  

This Rewind subject will be covered in two parts with the second piece in an upcoming column. 

Cliff Chapman Sr.
Clifford Chapman Sr. or "Chappy" takes a tour around the track with a stable member in this long ago scene. The old time cutter was an often used winter vehicle for winter training  (Chapman family archives) 

When members of a family have been continuously involved in the same endeavours and pursuits for over a hundred years,  it's pretty safe to say that quite a trail of history has been created.  I have recently been in contact with a couple of people with direct links to the well known Chapman family and they have shared some memories and old family photographs.  It has been a fun experience for me.  

Eighty years ago the world of harness racing was a far cry from what it would later become but one element was present then and has remained throughout the years.  In 1943 one of the great stories of Canadian harness racing was just beginning to unfold.  A three-year-old pacer named The Count was starting his racing career.  His trainer and driver Clifford Chapman Sr. however had already been around for a very long time. Known by all as "Chappy"  (as were most of his descendants) he was an accomplished trainer, driver and manager of his public stable.  

For many years "Chappy" and his wife, the former Adrienne Sullivan lived in suburban Toronto, not far from the fabled Dufferin Park. They had a family of four children,  three sons and a daughter. While daughter Margaret enjoyed the family involvement with horses, she did not have a direct lifelong attachment to either Standardbred or Thoroughbred pursuits.  The sons, however, were a different story.  

Cliff Chapman Sr. and The Count
Clifford Chapman Sr. is shown with The Count (later the Count B) one of the greatest performers of the 1940's and a four-time winner of the Canadian Pacing Derby. This photo was taken at Stratford, Ont. in 1943 when he was a three-year-old and just starting his career.  (Chapman family archives) 

Clifford Chapman Sr. 

Clifford Chapman Sr., the patriarch of the Chapman family was born in 1893 and drove in his first race in 1914 at the age of 21. Also in that race held at the Schomberg Fair was The Hon. Earl Rowe, a legendary horseman who went on to become the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. In the years that followed,  his career took him to many places in both Canada and the U.S. including a successful stint in Western Canada.  He raced and trained a number of top horses of both gaits, often competing in the annual Futurities which each year unveiled the top young horses. 

On August 9, 1955 he drove in his last race at the Old Woodbine track which would later become Greenwood.  On that occasion he won with Walnut Star, a horse he owned and trained.  His name would live on, based not only on his own achievements but also those of his family. 

In addition to being referred to as "Chappy" throughout his lifetime,  he was also tagged with the nickname "The Little Giant Of The Sulky" by a Toronto turf writer early in his career.   It seems that he became known by that moniker at every track he competed at.  I can recall my late father who knew him personally using that name many times.  It was not until many years later that I found out where it came from.  

In 1989 "Chappy" was inducted into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame,  a number of years after his passing. An excerpt from his HOF bio read as follows: "Chappy’s long career unquestionably exemplifies an undying love for his sport for he competed at the top of his profession in an era when money was not the attraction to keep the sport alive."

The Chapman Boys 

The Chapman Boys
The three Chapman brothers who were all involved in some area of horse racing are shown in this great old photo.   From left is John, a long time trainer and top driver of harness horses,  centre is Carl a Thoroughbred trainer and Cliff Jr. who served in many capacities of harness racing. (Chapman family archives) 

The last surviving member of the original family which included sons and daughters and their spouses, was Connie Chapman (nee Boudreau) the wife of Cliff Chapman Jr.  Born on October 31st she was given a lifelong nickname "Booey"; an obvious reference to Halloween (as well as her last name).  A cute story was told about her at the time of her 93rd birthday in 2013.  I have borrowed this little story authored by her daughter Shari Lovell. She passed away a few years later just a bit short of her 98th birthday.  Originally from Campbellton, N.B. she moved to Toronto at age eight.  In her late teens she  met and married Cliff Chapman Jr. and they were married for over 60 years.  

“Chappy’s brother Carl was a Thoroughbred horse trainer and one year he borrowed a set of jockey silks for Booey to wear to a Halloween costume party.  She was the size of a minute with an 18 inch waist so the silks fit  her as though they were made for her. 'Booey' could probably still fit into those silks today thanks to a lifetime of aerobic exercise starting with Jack LaLanne in the 1950s,” said Lovell. “She will be celebrating her 93rd birthday this Halloween with her family.  She hasn’t decided what costume she will wear.  Now, if we could just put our finger on some jockey silks...”

Chappy Chapman
Cliff Chapman Jr., or "Chappy" to most people, flashes a smile for the camera (Chapman family archives) 

Quote For The Week: "Mothers are like buttons; they hold everything together." See also below. 

Who Is It? 

Who Is It photo question

Can you identify the very accomplished driver pictured above? Let us know who you think he is.  

Who Else Is It? 

Who Else Is It photo question

When the Yonkers track photographer captured this winner's circle photo, members of the Lancaster, New Zealand cricket team were on U.S. soil and joined in the festivities.  Who was the winning driver? Name him if you can. 


Sunday, May 14 is Mother's Day,  a very special day on the annual calendar.  It is a special time to honour the most wonderful people in our lives.  I wish to extend a very "Happy Mother's Day" to all mothers on this day.  I have often written about this subject in past Rewinds and recalled that Cliff Chapman Jr., featured in today's column once owned a horse named Mother's Day. He not only raced her but she was also bred and raised by "Chappy". 



The Who is it? photo was correctly identified as Bill "Show Biz" Popfinger, a longtime top trainer and driver on the very tough New York Circuit when this picture was taken at Roosevelt Raceway. 
The Who Else Is It? photo was Johnny Chapman, part of this week's Rewind.
Thanks to our picture identifiers; this weekly feature couldn't survive without you. 

Was in movie Easy Money with Rodney Dangerfield.

Second looks like John Chapman.

Bill Popfinger [the initials on his pocket helped :)]
Looks like John Chapman in the winners circle photo.
I met Chappy at a horse sale in Truro when I lived in NS.
He came down for the sale several years to act as a very entertaining spotter.
I also met Cliff's son Paul when I visited Pinehurst training centre back in the 90's.
He has trained a couple of good ones too, starting with his good mare Chap Dancing.