In today's Rewind, Robert Smith further 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 week's Rewind is more about the fabled Chapman family history and concludes this two-part subject.
By the decade of the 1940's the next generation of the Chapman family was beginning to emerge on the racing scene. Around 1946 John Chapman, at about the age of 17 started his driving career. While his two brothers were involved in other pursuits related to horse racing, Johnny went on to a Hall of Fame career and is a member of both the U.S. and Canadian HOF. He earned his entry into Halls of Fame status as a world class driver as well as being a top trainer especially earlier in his career. "Johnny" as he was often called helped launch a new era in what might be termed horsemanship. He was always neatly dressed, well organized in his business aspects and athletic in appearance. He was admired by his fellow drivers and handled PR matters in the Big Apple like a pro.
Johnny had a storybook career that ended all too soon. After enduring many setbacks throughout his career which included numerous injuries and a disastrous stable fire in 1962 he always rebounded. Unfortunately in May of 1981 at the age of 51 he passed away from a heart attack at his home in Westbury, N.Y. At the time he was racing at Roosevelt Raceway which had become his home for many years during his productive career. He raced in five decades and recorded a total of 3,914 victories and his mounts earned a lofty $21.3 million.
A very young Johnny Chapman is shown in this circa 1946 photo taken at Toronto's Dufferin Park located not far from the Chapman family home. He is shown following a victory behind Cyrus Martin, a pacer owned by Mr. Jim Brown of New Liskeard, Ont. and the father of the very well known Dr. Glen Brown. The senior Mr. Brown was a long time patron of the Chapman stable and was the owner of the famous horse of the time The Count B. This may have been John's first winning drive of his lengthy career. (Photo courtesy of Chapman family archives)
By 1969 Johnny Chapman reached the 2,000 career wins plateau, a very special and coveted achievement at that time. To observe the milestone track officials at Roosevelt Raceway held a special trackside gathering. At this time very few drivers had ever recorded 2,000 wins in a career and John was only 40 years of age at the time.
The three Chapman brothers who were all involved in some area of horse racing are shown in this 1974 photo. From left is Cliff Jr., who served in many capacities of harness racing; centre is Carl, a thoroughbred trainer; and John, a longtime trainer and top driver of harness horses. The three Chapman sons shown above all distinguished themselves in a different fashion as each one carved out a unique niche in horse racing history. Subtly I omitted the word "harness" as one son Carl excelled in an entirely different field when he spent a lifetime as a highly skilled trainer of thoroughbreds.
Chappy spots a bid at the C.S.H.S Sale held at the CNE grounds many years ago (Chapman family archives)
"Chappy" Jr. was undoubtedly the most versatile of the three sons as he fulfilled numerous roles within the sport of harness racing. While he may be remembered for his longtime involvement as the owner and editor of The Canadian Sportsman, he also did a lot of other jobs as well. I have listed a couple of photos below showing him as a world famous bid spotter and entertainer as well as a trophy recipient. He also did many other things in his lengthy career. Above all he was an ambassador for the sport and was widely respected wherever he travelled.
Cliff Chapman accepts a trophy recognizing his many contributions to the Standardbred industry (Chapman family archives)
Cliff Jr. was known for many talents including being a world class bid spotter at Standardbred sales (Chapman family archives)
Cliff Chapman Jr. "Chappy" is pictured in this 1961 photo with his trotting horse Chappy's Boy and trainer-driver Jack Gordon. This photo was taken at the Blue Bonnets track in Montreal. This horse campaigned successfully for several seasons and at times was trained by his owner. Nearly 60 years after the original horse named "Chappy's Boy" raced for a Chapman, yet another "Chappiesboy" was also campaigned by a member of the next generation.
Paul and Nancy Chapman are pictured with their horse Chappiesboy (the modern day version) following a winning effort at Grand River Raceway in August of 2022. On this occasion the horse took a new lifetime mark of 1:53.4 with Tyler Borth in the sulky. (Tiffany Chantel Photography / Chapman family archives)
Paul Chapman adds a further calling to the family's many talents as he is a lifelong farrier or horseshoer if you wish. He and his wife Nancy of nearly 45 years met while working in Florida at the fabled Ben White winter training centre. Nancy a native of Ohio, has a great love of Standardbreds and is very much involved with their current and likely last horse Chappiesboy. Currently a resident at the Dorchester fairgrounds track, this fellow is being prepped for the upcoming season.
As a family I would guess that the Chapman family covered more bases than any other family in horse racing history but that is just my opinion which normally doesn't count for a lot. Below I have randomly (from memory) listed many of the different roles that have been filled by a member of the original Chapman family and their descendants. There may be more!
Owner, trainer, driver, breeder, magazine editor and owner, race secretary, announcer, auctioneer, bookmaker, blacksmith, bid spotter, staking service owner & manager, Hall of Famer(s), Thoroughbred trainer, photographer, historian, mutuel manager and last to be listed "Good Guy".
Quote For The Week: "The butterfly counts not months but moments and has time enough. Today, tomorrow and beyond. Butterflies are self propelled flowers. Beautiful and graceful, varied and enchanting, small but approachable, butterflies lead you to the sunny side of life." - Unknown
Who Is It?
Can you identify any of the drivers involved in this close and somewhat unusual finish? Can you spot the "unusual" aspect of the photograph? Let us know what you think.
Who Else Is It?
Can you identify this gentleman who had a long association with Canadian harness racing? The only clue given will be the fact that he was born in Turtleford, Saskatchewan.