You’re probably familiar with the saying “A picture is a
word a thousand words”. For former Golden Gate Fields jockey Tom Chapman, a
picture is worth a thousand emotions.
I came across Tom while building my face book page to
advertise my blog. I wanted to add anybody that has ties to, or is interested
in the bay area racing scene. Tom Chapman popped up as I conducted a search of
I knew of Tom when i was a beginning agent and he was one of
the top jockeys. Despite the difference in our stature, he was always polite as
we passed by each other on the backstretch.
Now an established artist, Tom is conducting a contest on Facebook
to name his latest painting. I knew he had been doing this for some time, as
his artistry has graced the cover of many bay area racing programs. As i looked
at more of his pieces, I grew more impressed with his work.
“I began painting in 1993 as a way to relief the stress of
race riding,” Chapman said. “I was addicted to the adrenaline and was always
trying to get that high on my days off. It keeps me connected to the sport. I
do all kinds of other things but I do love horse racing the most.”
As a racing fan. I first heard of Tom as he carried the
hopes of Golden Gate Fields to the Kentucky Derby back in 1981 on a local horse
named Hoedown’s Day. Although they finished 12th in the 23 horse field, it
wasn‘t often a local pairing made it that far and was exciting nonetheless.
Hoedown was only one of his big horses. Chapman was aboard
Sea Cadet for a win in the 1991 El Camino Real Derby, Slew of Damascus when he
won the 1993 Bay Meadows Handicap and his favorite horse all time, Moment to
Buy, on who he won the 1984 Hollywood Oaks.
Over his 19 years riding, “Chappy” as he was affectionately
known, amassed 2,587 wins in over 20, 000 mounts. He won over 100 races 15
times with his best year coming in 1989 when he found the winners circle 248
times. Arguably, the years he rode was the deepest jockey colony that Golden
Gate Fields has seen my time following racing.
But as we all know all good things must come to an end and a
series of events in the mid 1990’s helped Chapman decide that he had rode long
In 1995 he suffered bruised ribs and a sore back from a
spill at Bay Meadows. He hurried back to track to ride one of his big horses,
Slew of Damascus the next weekend. Following a third place finish in that race,
Chapman began to realize his time as a jockey was winding down. As he explains on the “about this artist” page on his
website http://www.chapman-arts.com/about_tom.html, the desire to live and
raise a family over shadowed his career.
"It was 3 months before I could sleep in a bed. I slept
in a reclining chair instead. I got to thinking, . . . "Man, I'm over 40
now, . . . I'm out here taking these spills, and it sure takes a lot longer to
heal than it used to. I don't know if it's worth it anymore."
The clincher came on a Friday night after the races at Bay Meadows.
I came home, and my wife Katherine began telling me about a conversation she'd
had with our 10 year old son earlier that evening. She said about 10:00 p.m. he
had come into our room, and asked her why I hadn't come home yet. She told him
I was riding in the later races, and just hadn't gotten home yet. He actually
asked her if I had died in a crash, and she just didn't want to tell him.
When she told me
that, it brought tears to my eyes. I didn't realize how much he worried about
me being injured, or worse. It just hit me. I decided right then, something was
going to be forever changed. Now, . . . I just needed to figure out
"how" to make that happen. I decided to finish out the meet there at
Bay Meadows, and then I would retire."
So in 1996, Chapman hung up the silks and brought out his
brush full time. What began as a hobby has now become a career and that, along
with a reborn family life, is the greatest victory an athlete can ever have.