Tom Chapman's Second Successful Career in Racing

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 my friends.

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.”

His paintings, from children and animal portraits to horses hitting the finish line, can be seen on his website

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 enough.

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, 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.

Meet Don August

I have been involved in horse racing, from a fan to sportswriter, for the past 30 years. The first time my dad took me to the track, I picked a horse named "Black Tornado" and when he won, I was hooked.  From then on, I spent weekends and occasional school days at the race track, and my enjoyment of the sport led me to try my hand at being a jockey agent, which i did for 3 years. When that didn't work out as I had hoped, I concentrated on my writing career by covering big races and doing summer fair handicapping, off and on, for the Contra Costa Times.

Today, I stay involved in the sport by being part of a group that currently owns two horses stabled at Golden Gate Fields. As all owners, we have dreams of someday having that special horse.  Besides writing about horse racing I enjoy covering many sports and have had the honor of meeting and writing about some incredible athletes.

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