Claire Chapman Smith was destined to be called to the barns of harness racing, a sport he watched grow from a leisurely pastime at Ottawa Valley fairs to a multi-billion dollar industry. He played a significant role in its development, making him a harness racing pioneer. His great-grandfather was involved with racetracks after immigrating to Canada from England while his great-grandmother was around horses as a lady-in-waiting to royalty. With his father running horses at local fairs and Smith’s great-grandfather owning a racetrack in the community of Harlem near Portland, Ont., it was not hard for Smith to become involved.
By the time he was a teenager Smith was driving at Ottawa Valley meets. He campaigned across the valley in the 1930s and 1940s, buying, trading and racing horses as a part-time profession. At one time he operated a gas service station before taking on a job at a car dealership. He owned and was involved with many good horses. Champ Volo, Canada’s two-year-old pacer of the year in 1956, was a Smith protégé. While a noted horseman in his own right, it was as an official of the sport that he left an indelible mark. How he became one of the top harness racing judges was accidental. In 1952 Smith was asked by T.P. Gorman to chart races at Connaught Park. The following year he started judging races on a part-time basis. In 1961 the Canadian Trotting Association asked him to be its acting head judge. Although he said he wasn’t interested, Smith filled in for two weeks. He remained a full-time judge for the next 24 years. He left the judges’ stand in 1985 but continued training horses into his 90s.
Smith presided at meets all across the country. In a 1962 column, Toronto Star racing writer Frank Armstrong wrote, “This past meeting at Old Woodbine was in our books the best supervised meeting in local history and we’re inclined to credit presiding judge Claire Smith”. During his tenure, he served on the CTA rules committee and virtually rewrote the rule book. He was later brought out of retirement by the CTA to co-ordinate its cross-Canada judges pool. Integrity was his goal and the penalties he imposed were used, in his opinion, to protect the $2 bettor. “Never has there been any judge as fair to the public, the track, and horseman”, said a columnist of his work. “Never has the sport been so appreciating”. Smith, who was born in Frankville, Ont., was also a member of the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame. He died in Ottawa in January, 2005, at the age of 96.