Approaching 30, 'Lovable Loser' Zippy Chippy Still Winning Over Fans At Old Friends At Cabin Creek - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Approaching 30, ‘Lovable Loser’ Zippy Chippy Still Winning Over Fans At Old Friends At Cabin Creek

Zippy Chippy (right), with paddock mate Red Down South at Old Friends at Cabin Creek in New York

As Zippy Chippy nears his 30th  birthday, fans of the lovable loser will be reassured to know he has not lost a step. Then again, he never had a step to lose.

The oh-so-slow bay gelding has been retired for the last 10 years at Old Friends at Cabin Creek in Greenfield Center, N.Y., where the infamy of falling short in all 100 of his starts has given way to fame.

Before the pandemic, scores of visitors wanted to spend time with Zippy Chippy, to get a glimpse of the horse that sometimes stood still while opponents charged from the starting gate. On other occasions, he would attempt to nip at rivals as they sped by. Such antics allowed him to make People magazine's list of the Most Interesting Personalities in 2000.

Foaled in 1991, the son of Compliance endured the ignominy of being acquired by owner and trainer Felix Monserrate in 1995 in exchange for a seven-year-old Ford truck. He performed so poorly that he was banned from numerous tracks that included Finger Lakes, which banished him after he failed to break with the rest of the field for the third consecutive start in racing's version of “three strikes and you're out.”

Monserrate retired Zippy Chippy in December, 2004, approximately three months after the horse hit the century mark in defeats in a race at Northampton Fair in Northampton, Mass. Fittingly, he finished last.

After a stint as a pony for an outrider at, of all places, Finger Lakes, Zippy Chippy ultimately made his way to the division of Old Friends named for Bobby Frankel, the late Hall of Fame trainer, in upstate New York. It is there that he found a soulmate in Red Down South, a chestnut New York-bred gelding. And it is there that he enjoys rock-star status.

Feed time for Zippy Chippy (right) and Red Down South

“He's brought so many people here and made them aware of how long horses live and all of their needs,” said JoAnn Pepper, who oversees the 40-acre retirement facility.

Like racing itself, celebrity did not come easily to Zippy Chippy. As part of its grand opening a decade ago, Old Friends at Cabin Creek set up a winner's circle with the idea that he would parade around the enclosure to the delight of fans who never saw that happen in reality.

This went as badly as many of his races.

As soon as Zippy Chippy and Red Down South were separated from the paddock that only the two of them share, trouble began.

“He was about 20 feet away from Red and they both went crazy not being together for 10 minutes,” Pepper said. “We had to put Zippy back in the paddock. That was after he kicked over the (winner's circle) sign and threw a fit. He hated every minute of it.”

Zippy Chippy celebrating his birthday

Zippy Chippy got loose approximately eight years ago. Not surprisingly, he did not run far. He was breathing heavily at the end.

“Maybe that was part of it, that he couldn't breathe as good as he should have while he was racing,” Pepper suggested.

There is no reason to think Zippy Chippy will run anywhere any time soon. To be sure, he goes at his own sluggish pace. Red Down South, only somewhat faster as a winner of two of 32 starts, has been known to bring his hay to him. When it rains, Red will force his best buddy to seek nearby shelter with him. In other instances, he will put pressure on him to walk, perhaps sensing that his roommate is 10 years older and will benefit from light exercise.

Zippy Chippy will make his way to the paddock fence, but do not come empty handed. “It's all about the candy,” Pepper said. “He eats a lot of candy for his age, but he seems fine with it.”

He will tolerate picture-takers. Well, somewhat. He often sticks out his tongue.

There is something about Zippy Chippy in retirement that makes him as endearing off the track as he was on it. Rosanne Frieri, 68, a professional photographer from Richmond, Mass., cannot get enough of him.

“There is something about an underdog. I migrate toward them,” said Frieri. “When I found out about Zippy Chippy with his record, I fell in love with him.”

She donates $100 per month to aid in his care. She delivered knitted Christmas stockings for Zippy and Red (“I didn't want either one to feel left out.”) She hopes to be able to safely hold a Kentucky Derby party to benefit Old Friends.

“I just love going up there,” Frieri said. “I love petting him and talking to him.”

Zippy Chipp (left) and Red Down South often express displeasure at photographers

Two authors found him equally captivating. Humorist William Thomas wrote “The Legend of Zippy Chippy: Life Lessons from Horse Racing's Most Lovable Loser.” Artie Bennett wrote a children's book illustrated by David Szalay: “The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn't.”

Bennett was enthralled by the horse that couldn't as soon as he heard the name. “It's like straight out of a nursery rhyme – Zippy Chippy,” he said.

He views Zippy Chippy's career as an inspiring tale for his impressionable audience.

“Children can learn from that, the importance of trying,” he said. “They can learn to give things their best shot, and not everyone can excel at everything. We mustn't let fear of failure keep us from trying new things.”

As Zippy Chippy relishes the idyllic setting that is home, as he takes comfort in Red's company, perhaps he reminds stressed-out adults of the value of taking life at a gentler pace.

Tom Pedulla wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America's Best Racing and other publications.

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