By T. D. Thornton
Roman Chapa, the jockey who has been suspended three times since the 1990s for possessing illicit shocking objects that can frighten a horse into running faster, rode his first race back on Monday since completing a five-year suspension and paying a $100,000 fine after getting caught with an electrical “buzzer” at Sam Houston Race Park in 2015.
Chapa finished fourth on 27-1 Uzi (Overanalyze) in the $20,000 Inaugural S. on the June 8 opening-day card at Arapahoe Park in Colorado.
In February, Chapa got his riding license reinstated by the Texas Racing Commission after serving his penalties. But Sam Houston immediately issued a “permanent exclusion” order when he tried to ride there, using private property rights to keep him off the racetrack.
Chapa was similarly rebuffed in March after meeting with stewards at New Mexico's Sunland Park. Several weeks later, the Quarter Horse stewards at Remington Park in Oklahoma denied his application, citing “conduct throughout his career [that] has been unsportsmanlike and detrimental to the best interest of horse racing.”
In addition to the commission-level penalties Chapa faced in Texas, he pled guilty in 2017 to felony criminal charges of making false statements to a state investigator during that 2015 buzzer case, which came to light when a stretch-run shot by the track photographer clearly showed a tan, palm-sized device with protruding prongs in Chapa's left hand as he rode home a winner in a stakes.
Chapa was given an order of deferred adjudication and placed on “community supervision” probation for 10 years, while a related felony charge of “unlawful influence on racing” was dismissed. According to a transcript of his March 27 Remington Park hearing, Chapa presented documentation that he had been granted early release from his probation in 2019.
Bruce Seymore, Arapahoe's general manager, explained to TDN on Tuesday why his track did not invoke a similar “house rule” to bar Chapa based on his decades-long history of misconduct and animal abuse.
“You know, it's redemption time. Everybody that wants to try to get themselves straight deserves a second chance,” Seymore said. “He's under the auspices of the racing commission here, and of course we're watching him. But I think [if] somebody goes to jail and serves their time, they have a right to rebuild their life. And I kind of look at that the same way with him. Everything I've seen so far, he's nothing but a gentleman and is trying to rebuild his life. I'm happy to give him that opportunity.”
Seymore explained that Chapa's licensure with the Colorado Racing Commission (CRC) includes an agreement that Chapa had to sign in order to be allowed to ride.
“So he's riding, I guess, with conditions,” Seymore said, adding that he was not privy to the details of that agreement.
Suzanne Karrer, the public information officer for the Colorado's Division of Racing Events, would not comment on the specifics of Chapa's licensure beyond the following statement:
“All applicants are investigated to ensure they are not statutorily disqualified from holding a license and subject to background checks with great regard given to an applicant's right of due process. Mr. Chapa is no exception and was offered a conditional license, which he accepted, under the licensing authority of the Division director. The Division of Racing Events does not comment or issue opinions on the reasons why a license is granted to an applicant, only on when a license application is denied.”
Calls to Chapa's mobile phone went unanswered Tuesday morning.
On Feb. 28, when news broke about Chapa getting his license back in Texas, Chapa told TDN in a text-message interview that “I am profoundly humbled by these past five years. It has been very hard on me and my family. I wholeheartedly apologize to everyone that my actions affected. I was wrong. I used a buzzer when I knew full well it was wrong. I cheated, and I got caught.”
But when TDN wanted to know if Chapa had fully recovered from grave injuries that he sustained in 2017 while allegedly riding in an unregulated Quarter Horse match race at an unsanctioned “bush” track in Memphis, Tennessee, Chapa replied “Yes, sir,” but then abruptly stopped responding to follow-up texts, ending the interview.
Chapa, who turns 49 later this month, has a rap sheet of offenses that would suggest he's already had his share of second chances.
In 1994, when Chapa was an apprentice jockey, investigators found a nail wrapped in tape (to form a small handle) in his belongings prior to a race at Gillespie County Fair in Texas. Chapa denied that the nail was intended to scare a horse in to running faster, claiming that he instead used it to make holes in his stirrups. He served a nine-month suspension and was fined $2,500.
The Houston Press reported that in 2001, Chapa was charged with one felony count of cruelty to animals when a Harris County sheriff's deputy responded to a call about a man reportedly beating a Boxer dog with a leather strap. Chapa pled guilty to a lesser offense and served 10 days in jail, the Press wrote.
At Sunland in 2007, Chapa was caught with an electrical shocking device in a Quarter Horse race. He was given a five-year suspension but was able to resume riding in 2011.
In 2012 at Sam Houston, Chapa was penalized for striking his mount in the face with his whip.
Chapa is named to ride three horses on Tuesday and two on Wednesday at Arapahoe.