Inside Track: Elite Groom

Inside Track: Elite Groom
Photo: courtesy of Gulfstream Park
Mike Chapple
It is fair to say that when Mike Chapple enrolled in the Groom Elite Certification School at Gulfstream Park this spring, he was not the average pupil.

At the time, Chapple was the vice president of security and surveillance for the track, and he recently added assistant general manager to his title.

The fact he came from the management realm did not prohibit him from enjoying and learning from his experience in the 40-hour program, which teaches students the intricacies of horsemanship.

“If you love something, you want to be involved in it and understand it,” said Chapple. “Being in the industry for the amount of years I have been in it, it was not only in my best interest, but having that love, I needed to understand that wonderful horse.”

Prior to joining the Gulfstream team in December 2006, Chapple, who is a native of Oklahoma, worked for Remington Park’s security team for 17 years. Although his life has been entwined with horses for a number of years now, Chapple did not plan on it being that way.

“I started as a security guard and had no idea that my future would be in the industry,” he said. “I was looking on a federal level. But every day of going to work, you get up at the crack of dawn, you see the sun, and you see this beautiful horse being trained. I started loving the animal itself and the beauty of the racehorse. The gaming is not what drew me to the industry; it was actually the horse, and one thing led to another.”

Chapple’s dedication to understanding the industry he has come to love has not gone unnoticed by those he works with.

“At Gulfstream Park we pride ourselves on our knowledge of all facets of our business,” said Bill Murphy, the track’s president. “Mike’s participation in this course is further evidence that our management team has not, nor ever will, lose touch with horses and horsemen.”

This is actually not the first time Chapple has participated in a groom elite program. He took a course in Oklahoma, but the one offered in Florida was more in depth and hands-on. Reid McLellan taught the students, and classes took place on Tuesdays during Gulfstream’s live meet. 

“You learn about the anatomy of the horse, and then it went on to how the horse works in the racing industry and what all it takes to prepare the athlete,” said Chapple. “It taught you things like the different types of ties for the horse’s tongue, how to groom the horse, and different leg wraps.

“There was a big test at the end. We went through a written test, and then we went through a hands-on test. It is a wonderful thing when you get tested on something—you realize you don’t know as much as you thought you knew.”

Although it may sound unusual for the head of security to graduate from a grooming course, Chapple said he gained a new respect for grooms and has a better relationship with everyone on the grounds.

“In this industry, even though you have your administration and then you have horsemen, this is a partnership,” said Chapple. “You enter this thing as a partner, and I found that after taking the course, horsemen readily come and talk to me. It isn’t us against them. That was something I was looking to enhance.”

Chapple, who is married and has four children, has enjoyed the challenge that moving to a larger track like Gulfstream has provided. He also plans on signing up for part II of the groom elite program when it is offered.

“The basics are something that I think everyone should learn and understand in order to really appreciate the animal,” he said. “How can you work in an industry, and you don’t know the basics about it?”

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