It's been a wild ride for Chapmans

`Pretty quiet life' thing of past for owners since `Smarty' began charge

Preakness Stakes

May 16, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

A few months ago, Roy Chapman was a semi-obscure, semi-retired septuagenarian who owned a semi-promising racehorse named Smarty Jones.

Now, Chapman - not to mention his horse - is on the brink of making history.

If Smarty Jones can finish off his amazing run that began two weeks ago at Churchill Downs and continued yesterday at Pimlico Race Course with a Triple Crown-clinching victory next month at Belmont Park, he and his wife, Patricia, would become the richest owners in the sport's history.

But regardless of the payday - a $5 million bonus added to the one they've already collected for winning the Kentucky Derby as well as the Arkansas Derby and the Rebel Stakes, along with nearly $1.5 million in prize money for the two Triple Crown races - the thrill of watching this saga unfold has been priceless for Chapman and his 62-year-old wife.

Well, almost priceless.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to send that money back to anybody," Roy Chapman said after Smarty Jones blew away the field in of the 129th Preakness.

"But it's not going to change my style of living, my wife's style of living. It's not going to change my children's style of living. Thank God, we're doing OK."

Apparently, it's not going to change the Chapmans, either. The couple got into racing in the 1980s at Philadelphia Park after successfully raising steeplechase champions, and nearly got out when longtime trainer Bob Camac was murdered 10 months after Smarty Jones was born, has become the toast of the industry.

Patricia Chapman said recently that she and her 78-year-old husband led a "pretty quiet life until a month ago."

No longer.

"I want to make one announcement," Roy Chapman joked last night. "I love the press, but my wife and I are going to take up residence in Nome, Alaska, the next three weeks. We'll see you in New York."

When the inevitable comparisons to Seabiscuit were made, and someone asked Chapman if he ever saw the legendary horse run, Chapman roared. "Did I what? I trained him. What do you mean did I see him run?"

Chapman, who suffers from emphysema and needs oxygen to help him breathe, acknowledged that the Kentucky Derby victory was almost too much for him to handle. Yesterday, he seemed to get through the race as easily as his horse.

"I think I did pretty good, I really do," he said. "I made my mind up I was going to try to stay a little calmer. The Derby was a little nerve-racking.

"Things were handled here perfectly. I was perfectly taken care of by Pimlico, by my hotel. We had the greatest police escort coming here you've ever seen in your life. We had a heck of a good time."

Not that watching Smarty Jones win by the widest margin in Preakness history was totally stress-free for the man everyone calls Chappy.

"I had to hold back the tears a little bit," he said. "I was like John [Servis, the trainer]. I didn't sleep too good last night. I thought he might win, but I never thought he would blow them away like he blew them away."

Chapman, who made his career selling cars, hopes that the sport will benefit as much, if not more, than his bank account by what Smarty Jones has done in the first two legs of this year's Triple Crown.

"I pray it helps racing," he said. "Racing is a good sport, a clean sport, and employs a lot of people. A lot of people don't know what that feels like to see the horse you bet on come running down the stretch.

"I don't care if it's Smarty Jones or a $20,000 claimer. It's a big thrill."

Sometimes, it feels like a million bucks.

Or maybe even $10 million.

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