Walkerton’s Chapman finds thrill in harness racing

WALKERTON — Ron Chapman got the “bug” when he was 10-11 years old. That bug was a passion for harness racing.
After spending more than half of his life breeding, training and driving Standardbred trotters and pacers, Chapman is still a fan as well as an active participant. His newest project is two-year-old filly TC Scandal.
When Chapman was growing up in LaPorte County on the family farm, harness racing was popular. The 4-H fair offered racing, as did many other counties throughout the state. While the number of tracks have diminished, there are still enough venues to bring out both seasoned veterans like Chapman as well as the younger generations.
“I remember spending most of the day down at racing horse barn,” Chapman recalled when talking about his teenage years in 4-H. “I would listen to the conversations.”
Starting in 1962, Chapman began racing ponies. In 1968 he moved up into Standardbreds. He is one of the few participants in the state who continues to train and race his horses.
In his opinion, this gives him both an advantage and a disadvantage.
“You know your horse; you know its quirks,” he said, “and you try to compensate for them.”
It can also mean that the racing style may not be as aggressive as hired drivers who have a tendency to get in the cart and “let ‘er rip.”
For many years, Chapman fit his racing in around a full-time job.
“The horse business is up and down,” he said.
His children grew up in the barns and were even certified grooms. He has raced in Chicago, Detroit and Moline, Ill. There have always been plenty of opportunities, he said.
A couple of weeks ago, Chapman and TC Scandal made their debut at the Noble County 4-H Fair in Kendallsville. It was not a good showing for the first-time pacer, but since then Chapman said the filly has been doing better. He has used the time between races to continue her training.
Chapman prefers harness racing to Thoroughbred racing for a number of reasons. There is an excitement to this type of horse racing that can’t be found on the Thoroughbred tracks.
“When you are wheel to wheel going at 30 miles per hour, to me, I can’t get that kind of thrill from Thoroughbreds,” he said. “There’s also a different philosophy. We (harness racers) want to race every week.”
Harness racing in Indiana includes a handful of fairs and the pari-mutual tracks. Lucrative purses and a steady industry have helped keep the sport going strong. And while there may be fewer places to race in this area of the state, enthusiasts like Chapman are willing to drive where they need to in order to put their horses on the track.
He has high hopes for his two-year-old, even with her late in the season start. She has the right pedigree, good confirmation, and his instincts tell him she may have what it takes to be another winner for Chapman’s record.