SC Rewind: Chapman Family Memories (Pt. 2)

SC Rewind: Chapman Family Memories
Published: May 27, 2023 10:27 am EDT

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. 

John Chapman and Cyrus Martin

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)

2,000 wins for John Chapman

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 Chapman Boys

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.  

Cliff 'Chappy' Chapman bidspotting at the CNE grounds

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 'Chappy' Chapman

Cliff Chapman accepts a trophy recognizing his many contributions to the Standardbred industry (Chapman family archives) 

Cliff 'Chappy' Chapman bidspotting

Cliff Jr. was known for many talents including being a world class bid spotter at Standardbred sales (Chapman family archives) 

Chappys Boy

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? 

Who Is It photo question

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? 

Who Else Is It photo question

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. 



The following note was received from Shari and Kim daughters of Cliff "Chappy" Chapman Jr. and reprinted with their permission .
"It is an honour for the Chapman family to have our fathers, uncles and grandfather remembered for their contributions to the sport so thank you Robert for summarizing their roles and accomplishments so beautifully. We are very proud of them and we sure do miss them!!

Shari Lovell & Kim Chapman

The following note was received from Nancy and Paul Chapman and reprinted with their permission .
Thank you Robert . The memories brought tears to my eyes when reading about the past. Of course my love for horses always brings tears to my eyes. Happy to have worked with you and we hope to meet you in person someday. As it always says,Happy Trails To You… But in your case Happy Tales. Cliff would have been delighted to see this story.
Thank you again. Nancy and Paul Chapman

The Who is it? photo was correctly identified by several people. The original caption read as follows; "Five pacers and drivers finishing the race in post position order. From the foreground of the photo: TH Lobell #1 w/ Carmine Abbatiello, Keystone Mace #2 w/ Ted Wing and Savilla #3 w/ John Kopas." Based on info. from Billy O I am going to say #4 Jimmy Marohn, #5 Wm. O'Donnell 
The Who Else Is It? photo was correctly identified as Jacob Geisel Jr., best remembered as "Sonny" in a real close up shot.
Thanks to our picture identifiers. You're like a good hockey goalie "Pretty tough to get one by."

Thanks Robert. Besides the numerical order of finish another 'unusual' stands out. In the photo each horse appears to be beaten (by the horse inside of him) by 'about' a head.


A small correction is due in connection with one of the picture captions in Saturday's Rewind. The picture of the three Chapman brothers was taken in 1977 (not 1974 as stated) at Flamboro Downs. It was a very special event in the track's history as the first ever Confederation Cup was being held that day. The winning horse was Governor Skipper piloted by Johnny Chapman. Also of note was the fact that the photographer was Gary Foerster who was on one of his very first assignments as a writer for the Canadian Sportsman, having just recently begun what would be a very long association with that memorable publication. My apologies for the oversight.

Carmine abbatiello, mike gagliardi?, john kopas, jack kopas, bill o’donnell. Half mile track could be the start too

The unusual is that the horses are in program order
Abbatiello in front, as usual - can't see the others well.

The last picture is Jacob Geisel, I think, and if I remember the picture from an old Harness Horse magazine, he was driving a horse called Chocolate Eclair.
Funny what you remember, eh?
I think he was known as Sonny.

From inside out numbers 1-5.
(1)Carmine Abbatiello
(2)Ted Wing
(3) ???
(4)Jimmy Marohn
(5) Bill ODonnell

The unusual is that the horses are in program order
Abbatiello in front, as usual - can't see the others well.

The last picture is Jacob Geisel, I think, and if I remember the picture from an old Harness Horse magazine, he was driving a horse called Chocolate Eclair.
Funny what you remember, eh?
I think he was known as Sonny.

Carmine Abbitello, Ted Wing, John Kopas, Herve, Billy O. Sonny Giessel. 1,2,3,4,5. Thought maybe this was leaving the gate, but I see hands are not in the hand holds. Thanks Robert!