Owning up to smart choice

Horse racing: Roy and Patricia Chapman were ready to get out of the sport, but Smarty Jones convinced them otherwise and justified the owners' decision.

Preakness Stakes

May 12, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

After Patricia and Roy Chapman bought their farm, they struggled trying to decide what to name it. They talked about the things they wanted to do on their 100 acres in New London, Pa.

Someday they wanted to do this, and someday they wanted to do that. Finally, as the list of "someday projects" grew, they decided upon a name: Someday Farm.

Someday has come to this. On Saturday, their 3-year-old Smarty Jones, winner of the Kentucky Derby and a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn Park, will attempt to win the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course.

Smarty Jones has already captured the country's fancy. A win in the Preakness with a chance three weeks later in the Belmont to become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner would make him a national sensation.

A big reason for that are his owners, the Chapmans, especially Roy Chapman. Viewers watched him on television after Smarty Jones captured the Kentucky Derby. Breathing with the aid of oxygen tubes, Chapman stood up from his wheelchair and threw his arms into the air. He promptly sat down, gasping for breath.

"I felt like I was having a heart attack," he says. "If you know anything about emphysema, you know the one thing you never do is raise your arms above your head. I just ran out of air and had to sit down."

After smoking three packs of Lucky Strikes a day for most of his life, Chapman was found to have emphysema 13 years ago. He says the doctor told him then it would never get better; it would only get worse. Now, Chapman's lungs work at 20 percent capacity, he says.

Oddly, his health was the reason he and his wife downsized their horse operation but also the reason they decided to keep Smarty Jones. They understood that the speedy, undersized chestnut would likely be their last chance for racing glory.

John Servis, the Chapmans' trainer at obscure Philadelphia Park, told them in November that Smarty Jones was a special horse. Roy Chapman's nickname is Chappy.

"Chappy said to me then," Servis says, " `I don't know how much longer I've got on this earth, but I'd like to get to the Derby.' "

Servis mapped out a plan - and executed it flawlessly. The Chapmans, whose best horse before Smarty Jones was a Maryland Hunt Cup winner, found themselves in the Kentucky Derby's soggy winner's circle with a horse yet to lose after seven races.

Three days later, Roy Chapman turned 78. On Monday at Philadelphia Park, he and his wife accepted a check for $5 million from Charles J. Cella, owner of Oaklawn Park. Cella offered a $5 million bonus to the owner of any horse who could win Oaklawn's Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby. The Chapmans say they haven't decided what to do with the money.

They've delayed their trip to Baltimore until Friday because of Roy Chapman's health. The interviews, the travel, the constant attention have been difficult for him, his wife says. The next day they will watch their horse try to capture the second leg of racing's Triple Crown.

"It's been overwhelming, simply overwhelming," Patricia Chapman says. "People keep asking if it's sunk in yet. No, it really hasn't, because there's just so much going on."

The big break

The Chapmans had no idea they'd wind up the toast of racing when they bought their farm in 1988 in Chester County, Pa. They bought horses for fox hunting and racing. In 1989 their Uncle Merlin won the Maryland Hunt Cup, one of the nation's most prestigious steeplechase races. After that, the Chapmans participated in racing mostly at its lower levels at Philadelphia Park.

Their trainer was Bob Camac, a respected mid-Atlantic horseman. In 1993, Camac recommended the Chapmans buy the filly I'll Get Along at the Keeneland September yearling auction. They paid $40,000.

Camac trained her, and she raced five years, won 12 races and earned $276,969. After she retired, Camac recommended the Chapmans breed her to Elusive Quality, a Kentucky sire.

"We relied on Bob for all those decisions," Patricia Chapman says. "We never questioned his judgment."

The mating produced Smarty Jones. He was born Feb. 28, 2001, at Someday Farm. Because of Roy Chapman's health, the Chapmans had sold the farm two years earlier but still kept their horses there.

In December 2001, Camac, 61, and his wife Maryann, 55, were shot to death at their farm in New Jersey. The wife's son was charged with the shooting - a conflict over money - and sentenced to 28 years in prison.

Despondent over Camac's death, the Chapmans, who had already begun to downsize, decided to get out of the horse business altogether.

Asked about Camac's death, Patricia Chapman says: "I'm still shocked. Every time I go through the address book or see his name anywhere, it's a fresh feeling for me. ... We can't take his name out of the address book. We just can't."

While preparing to sell their remaining horses, the manager of Bridlewood Farm in Florida, where Smarty Jones had gone to learn to be a racehorse, told the Chapmans: "This may be the one you've been waiting for."

A deserving nickname

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