Hats Off to Hapman

Until what age can a racehorse run?  It depends.

Some horses retire at two, three, four: to go to stud, because of injury, or because they just don't want to be racehorses.

Many others run longer, despite what those who watch just the Kentucky Derby may know.  Hawthorne's Friday card was drawn today, and all ten horses in the finale are between ages five and eight.  All but two are either seven or eight.

Then, there are others who race even longer than that.  Musketier and Calidoscopio both won graded stakes races at age 10.  Ben's Cat is 10 this year, and he posted an almost impossible victory in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint.  Stig's Deputy set the five-furlong course record at Hawthorne at age 10, set another course record for about five furlongs on the Belterra grass at age 12, and retired on those laurels.  11-year-old Caberneigh has won four of his nine starts this year.

If a horse is sound and enjoys their job, seeing them run for so many years not only keeps them doing what they love to do, but gives fans a racehorse to follow and love for years.

This brings us to Hapman.

Hapman surveys his kingdom while another old Chicago warrior, Ice Climber, looks on from his saddling stall. (Photo: Nicolle Neulist)

Hapman surveys his kingdom while another old Chicago warrior, Ice Climber, looks on from his saddling stall. (Photo: Nicolle Neulist)

Eleven-year-old Hapman retired today according to Jan Ely, coordinator of Galloping Out.  The chestnut gelding raced 89 times between ages three and 11.  He won 13 times, and finished in the money another 30.  Though he did not win this year he remained competitive, hitting the board in five of his 12 starts.  His connections were as consistent as his record.  Campaigned by Flying I Ranch and the Millard Seldin Revocable Trust for his entire career, he only raced for two trainers.  Charlie Livesay conditioned him until he retired in winter of this year, and Barr Inman trained him through the rest of this year.  Despite running for a tag through much of his career, no one ever claimed him.  Given his consistency and durability, that was great fortune for his connections.

Not only did Hapman often get a spot on the podium, but he displayed versatility throughout his career.  Though mainly a router later in his career, he raced mostly in sprints early on.  He won on turf, dirt, and Polytrack.  He won on firm turf, and grass with give.  He won on fast dirt, and frequently got a piece over an off track as well.  Hapman was an honest racehorse: he showed up and ran no matter what.

Those who do not know Chicago racing may have missed Hapman, since he raced mainly in the claiming and starter ranks.  He never ran in a stakes like his sire, multiple Grade II winner Hap.  Hap even made a mark locally, finishing second in the 2001 Arlington Million (GI).

But, any regular denizen of Arlington or Hawthorne in recent years will have colourful memories of Hapman.  He had more verve than horses half his age.

His consistent racing performance was part of it.  So were his antics.

Most horses get saddled in the paddock before their races.  Not Hapman.  Even at eleven, Hapman had special dispensation.  His groom would bring him to the paddock already saddled.  Even with that task out of the way, it took strong muscles and a quick wit to make sure that Hapman and his feisty antics did not interfere with the rest of the field.

At Arlington, the saddling stalls are split.  Typically horses who drew numbers 1-6 are on one side, and 7-12 prepare on the other.  This did not matter to Hapman: there were times he drew inside in a short field, and his groom would walk him around the 7-12 side of the paddock to keep him from roiling up the rest of his foes.

Hapman's reserve of energy seemed endless, even at age 11.  Despite his antics before the race, he would find enough to run well.  After a while, any paddock handicapper on the circuit figured out that Hapman could run his race in the paddock, and still have another to run on the track.

If one morning during Arlington Million week last year serves as any indication, Hapman could be as much trouble for his exercise rider as he was for his grooms.

One moment, an exercise rider guided Hapman off the horse path and onto the track.  The rider grinned from ear to ear as he took his mount clockwise along the outside rail.  It was a good morning to be at the track.

A few minutes later Hapman returned, going clockwise.  It was no longer a good morning to be Hapman's exercise rider.

It was a great morning to be Hapman.

Unlike your average loose horse, he looked like he had done it a million times before.  The alarm blared; Hapman didn't care.  The other gallopers, the ponies: they may have been hindrances, but Hapman had conquered them a million times before.  They would bend to his will again.  He knew it.

The ten-year-old chestnut evaded an outrider.  He buzzed Closing Bell, a three-year-old in town for the Secretariat Stakes (GI), and kept right on his merry way.  Another outrider finally caught him along the backstretch.  Order returned for all but Hapman, now forced to go back to the barn and contemplate his next caper.

Hapman has been one of the most delightful horses on the Chicago circuit.  His durability, his antics, and his sass have brought joy to many racing fans.  His connections deserve credit for keeping him sound and in training for as long as he was happy and competitive, and for placing their local legend in Galloping Out when the time came to retire.

Until what age can a racehorse run?  It depends on the horse.  For Hapman, 11 was just the right answer.

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