Respected racecaller and horseman John Tapp will have his first Inter Dominion finalist when Chariot King lines up in Australasia's feature harness racing event on Sunday March 3 at Tabcorp Park Menangle but if it wasn't for a friendly argument between two other media identities in 1970 everything could have turned out differently.
Frank Kennedy and Ian Craig were panellists on Channel 7’s Sunday morning programme Punters Post Mortem when Kennedy raised the issue of a lack of ability amongst some of Sydney’s harness drivers. Craig suggested to Kennedy if it was so easy to drive then he should take part in a match race.
Craig became ill in the weeks leading up to the “race” which was run at the Fairfield showground as part of a Sunday gymkhana. Kennedy rang Tapp in desperation to see if he was interested in replacing Craig and after accepting the offer the wheels were set in motion for Tapp’s introduction to the standardbred.
“I was given a crash course in how to drive a pacer by several trainers in the lead up to the race and one of those men Eddie Sims took a real interest in me,” Tapp said.
“In the meantime Des Hoysted had become part of the challenge as well and it was a standing start event with more than 5000 people in attendance, I drove a horse called Coolac, Frank drove Pirate Prince and Des drove Gratuity. Coolac pinged straight to the front and won and I became totally besotted with pacing.”
Tapp spent plenty of time around harness racing stables in the following years but it wasn’t until 1980 that he took out his trainers’ licence. His first win came two years later when a former New Zealand horse Restful Knight won a race at Penrith. During these early years in Tapp’s training career he was still working fulltime in the media.
“I started with 2GB in 1965 well before my love of the standardbred began, but when it dropped the racing coverage in 1981 I moved across to 2UE to be the understudy to Des Hoysted, I also worked for Channel 9 for many years working as part of the news team and did a lot of colour pieces for Wide World Of Sports and Sports Sunday.”
During his time at Channel 9, Tapp was also the co-host of the Lotto draw with Karen Pini for seven years however it was a nasty race fall at Fairfield that saw him walk away from the sport in 1986 for nearly a decade.
“I sustained a broken leg in three places as a result of the fall and I remember being called into Sam Chisolm’s office, who was the big boss at Channel 9 at the time and he suggested that I give away race driving and concentrate on my job so as a result I walked away from harness racing until 1995.”
The comeback was very low key, Tapp purchased a horse from New Zealand called Alias Kent that managed to win a weak race at Bulli with a very young Josh Willick in the sulky and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have some very nice horses in my training career but by far and away Chariot King is the best horse I have ever had, he was a top juvenile winning Gr. 1 events as a two and three year old and to think that he is still competing against the best after he was retired and made a comeback is testament to the horse.”
“I am looking forward to Sunday March 3 when Chariot King races in the inter Dominion, it will be a special thrill and something that I could have never dreamed of when I received a call from Frank Kennedy asking me if I was interested in competing in a race 43 years ago.”
COURTESY OF HARNESS RACING NEW SOUTH WALES