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"Immortality has been realized once the roar of the crowd has been united."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tom Chapman: Painting a Brighter Future

Fanned Out Nine Wide by Tom Chapman
There was a time, not long ago, when horse racing was considered one of the preeminent sports in American culture. People were drawn to its pageantry and competition, and could relate their own personal triumphs and defeats to those that were unfolding on the track. Horse racing reaches back to a tougher, more rugged era, and perhaps the recent softening of our country is one reason it has fallen somewhat out of favor with today’s public. One man presently helping to re-establish the sport’s prominence is doing so with nothing more than a paintbrush and a lifetime’s worth of memories.

Tom Chapman was not born into a life in racing, or a life in art for that matter. His formative years were spent in the tiny town of Cut Bank, Montana. He was a state wrestling champion in high school, and his love for the outdoors included everything from snowmobiles to animals. Tom flashed an interest in painting during his youth, but also realized early on that school was not his forte. At the suggestion of a family friend, he set off for California with the hopes of making his mark as a jockey. The year was 1973, and Tom’s first work came as a “hot walker” at a ranch in Southern California. After a few months, he was given the opportunity to begin halter breaking some of the babies, followed by the yearlings.

The transition from ranch to race track was inevitable, and before long, he was working as an exercise boy at Santa Anita. There, Tom met trainer, Henry Moreno, a man whom he credits with shaping the course of his future for years to come. “Henry was my mentor. He became like a father figure to me,” Tom recalls. “He worked me hard, but was a fair man.” Tom’s first professional mount came in 1977 at Santa Anita on a Moreno-trained filly named Zulla Road. The rest, so to speak, is history. His racing influences included the likes of Bill Shoemaker and Fernando Toro, and the bulk of his riding career was spent in Northern California. A few of his more notable mounts were on Sea Cadet, Slew of Damascus, and Hoedown’s Day, who he rode in the 1981 Kentucky Derby for Roger Dominguez.

Tom Aboard Ifrad for Charlie Whittingham
After two decades in the saddle, Chapman chose to permanently hang up his tack in 1996 in order to spend more time with his family. As he explains, “I always spoke about how family was more important than the career. I always talked the talk, but working at the race track was so life consuming, it was impossible for me to really walk the walk. There were many signs that things were just not the way they should be in my family, so I decided to give the racing up.”     It was then that Tom reintroduced himself to the form of expression he had so loved as a young man. His rebirth as an artist had begun, and he has never looked back.

Tom Chapman’s visions now grace the walls of racing venues all along the West Coast, and across the country. He has tailored his craft through works of his own choosing, as well as with those that have come by way of commission. His works are honest and heartfelt, offering the lay person a vivid glimpse into the beauty that is horse racing. His passion for life is also clearly evident in the exquisite detail that he applies to both horses and humans alike. 
Recently, Tom has taken on a few new ventures that have allowed him to share his talents and experiences with others. He is teaching art classes at a local community college, and has facilitated art and racing lectures in various senior communities. Despite the brilliance in Chapman’s artwork, this willingness to give of his own time may very well say as much about the man as the paintings ever could.

Tom Chapman In His Studio

Tom Chapman’s art can be viewed at www.chapman-arts.com
& he can be found on Facebook at Chapman Fine Arts

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The author is a horse racing enthusiast determined to offer a unique vision of the sport's most paramount stories.