For Batavia’s unsung hero Jami Chatt, class is always in session, standardbred style

by Chris Lomon

Meet Jami Chatt, one of standardbred racing’s proudest, yet humblest, promoters.

It was a tailor-made honor for someone who goes the extra mile to trumpet the sport she dearly loves.

On Dec. 11, Chatt, a special education teacher in the Sweet Home (NY) school district, received the Upstate New York Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA) 2021 Unsung Hero award at Batavia Downs.

“I was super surprised. I’m doing what I love. To be awarded for doing something that I love, it’s really special to me,” she said.

Growing up around horses, Chatt was introduced to harness racing by her grandfather, Fred Haslip, a driving and training legend in western New York since the 1960s.

“I’m actually a sixth-generation horseperson in my family. My mom was a trainer and a driver. As soon as I could walk, I was pretty much into it. There was an article that talked about me jogging horses with my grandpa when I was just 3. My first time in the bike was when I was 11 when I went a training mile with my mom. It’s been something incredible, a wonderful part of my life.”

From grooming, jogging, outriding and training horses, she has been a significant contributor to the racing in the Empire State.

Chatt has also stepped up to help others in the industry over the years.

In 2013, when driver Anthony Coletta was injured in a race accident at Harrah’s Philadelphia, she took the reins and led the “Stay Strong Anthony Coletta” fund, which included wristband sales, a silent auction, purse donations from drivers, trainers and owners, along with cash given by fans and Batavia Downs staff. Her efforts helped bring in just shy of $13,000, funds that were directed to Coletta and his family to help him during his recovery.

Her selfless ways don’t end there.

The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester (BCCR) held one of their annual fundraisers at Batavia Downs starting in 2010, eventually becoming a major event. Chatt, through her connections with horsepeople, has helped raise money for the initiative, asking trainers, drivers and owners at Batavia and other racetracks, to donate a percentage of their purse from the night of the event to the BCCR. This year, the final tally was a record $19,653.

The native of Oakfield, NY, is also a racehorse owner.

Mateo, a bay son of Blue Burner, has racked up 22 wins and 65 top-three finishes over a 121-race career.

The pacer’s latest trip to the winner’s circle came on the night of Nov. 3 at Batavia Downs.

Whether it’s inside or outside of the classroom, at the racetrack or away from it, Chatt leads a busy, but rewarding life.

“It’s not easy, but I feel like I’ve been doing it for so long, all of it just comes naturally to me. I don’t really have weekends or nights off – I’ve been in the racing business my whole life – even dating back to my college days. I wasn’t going to parties on Saturday nights because I was paddocking at the racetrack. I think it’s just something I’ve grown up with, so when it comes to free time, I don’t have much of it. Free time is horse time.”

She’s somehow found a way to unite her full-time job with her racing gigs.

Channeling her inner educator at the racetrack is certainly not a new thing for Chatt.

“One of my favorite things about racing is talking to people who have never experienced it. I have to admit, it boggles my mind that so many people in the area don’t know about it when I tell them my family and I race horses.”

When she was interviewing to be a substitute teacher, horse racing came up in the conversation.

As it turned out, the subject matter helped land her the job, just as did with her current role with Sweet Home.

“They asked me, ‘Tell me something unique about yourself.’ So, I told them my family and I race standardbred racehorses. I’ll never forget the day I interviewed for the position that I have now. About 25 minutes of my interview was explaining the business, what I do, how I got into it, and things like that. When I got the position, I remember my first day at the school, the teachers that were on the interviewing committee said to me, ‘That was so cool. It stuck with us the whole time.’ When I had to have the interview with my superintendent, when I made it down to the final two, he said, ‘I heard you were in the horse racing business.’ I guess it was an attention grabber. They all had so many questions.”

It was shortly after those interactions when Chatt organized a field trip for her scholastic contemporaries.

And once again, she was able to regale a group of curious individuals with more tales of the track.

Class is in session, standardbred style.

“Todd Haight [director/GM of Batavia Downs] and I work really close together, so I shot him a text and said, ‘Let’s get this done.’ He’s always on board with all of my ideas. This is my fourth year at the school, and every year I’ve been at this job, I bring a group of teachers out to the racetrack. Some of them have gone every year. But there are always new teachers that come. It’s always fun. I explain the program to them, people always take pictures of me holding the program like I’m holding up a book as if I’m reading to the class. I try to teach them a little bit. We couldn’t do it because of Covid this year, but Todd will let us go to the winner’s circle for a race to get our picture taken. It’s just an experience that is great for all of us. They loved it. Any time I can get new people to the racetrack, I’m happy to bring them out. I tell them to just have fun, put a little money down and ask me anything they want.”

And, as she always manages to do, Chatt comes up with the perfect response to any questions she fields.

Her enthusiasm and unabashed passion for the sport makes it easy to deliver those answers.

“I love the family we have at the racetrack. To know that I always have that support, it really does mean so much to me. I’m really grateful for the backing I have, and I’m so happy to share my love of racing with so many people.”

An unsung hero who always puts others, and the sport she loves, at the head of the class.