‘Losing real close’ is good enough
By Darren Lum
There is more to life than winning, said William Thomas to local CARP members, who welcomed the
Canadian author as the keynote speaker at their annual general meeting on Sunday, April 28 at the HHOA fish hatchery in Haliburton.
Thomas, a syndicated humour columnist, who used to have an Eagle Lake cottage, had the audience laughing within a few minutes, talking about his non-fiction novel, Zippy Chippy: Life Lessons from Horse Racing’s Most Lovable Loser.
Zippy is the retired thoroughbred who holds the record for ineptitude, losing 100 horse races in as many attempts. The horse was also notorious for his extraordinary personality. For all his losing, he never seemed to be bothered by it, holding his head high after a loss when another horse might have been down. (Many thoroughbreds don’t want to race after losing several races, let alone dozens.)
The gelding also had a penchant to indulge in human treats such as doughnuts and beer. He regularly broke out of his stable and one time he even managed to break in. His losing exploits were well-documented by various news outlets, as he piled on loss after loss.
People Magazine named Zippy Chippy one of the Most Intriguing Characters of 2000. As the losses mounted, he became a cult hero among the populace. There were people who would come from all over to bet and to watch Zippy, bringing their children, who would wear Zippy hats and cheer on the lovable loser with the quirky personality. Sometimes he liked to bite the hats off people, or buck off his rider before the end of a practice ride to go back to his stable.
People could see a little bit of themselves in Zippy when it came to his struggles to win. No matter how many times he lost, he was ready to race again – except for the few times he didn’t get out of the gate, which led to him being banned. The fans always hoped they could be lucky enough to see him win one and share in the triumph.
Before his racing career began, Zippy was expected to be among the greats. After all, his grandfather was well-known Canadian thoroughbred, Northern Dancer.
“His pedigree was just out of this world. Every one of Zippy’s relatives are in the hall of fame. Buckpasser, Man O’ War, Native Dancer, Bold Ruler, who fathered Secretariat,” Thomas said.
Thomas described Zippy as different than his winning relatives.
“A lot of horses aspire to run in the Kentucky Derby and run for the roses. Zippy liked to stop and smell them ... usually coming down the home stretch, which will cost you a lot of time. I want to tell you that right now,” he said.
Although he never won a horse race at the track, he did find some success in Carnival-style exhibition races. Even this didn’t come without struggle. In front of 10,000 people, he managed to lose to a fleet-footed minor league baseball player by barely getting off the start until his two-legged opponent was well on his way to crossing the finish line.
Zippy’s story isn’t a solo effort so much as a duet.
The novel is as much about the horse as its trainer and owner Felix Montserrate. There was a shared belief in one another. Even if they didn’t always get along.
“It’s really a love story about a little Puerto Rican guy and a big horse who tried their hearts out and ... they were a team. They were a great team. They tried. They never cheated. They played fair. They loved the track. They loved their lives at the track. They filled a lot of race cards. They made a lot of money for rich people who owned their horses and they never quit. Somehow they always sort of ended up looking like Laurel and Hardy [the comedy duo from the 1920s through to the 1950s]. They did a lot of personal appearances and things like that,” he said.
For all the losing, they always pushed forward on to the next race.
“They never gave up. There was more hope in the stable of Felix Monserratre than hay,” Thomas said.
Retired now, the horse lives at Old Friends thoroughbred retirement farm at Cabin Creek, New York.
Thomas said Zippy now draws throngs of people who want to see the horse and buy souvenirs. Ironically, his revenue helps to pay for the other 22 other horses, who were all winners.
“That’s all you need to know. So much so that Old Friends farm have now changed their motto. You drive up to Old Friends farm the motto out front says: You don’t have to come first to be a winner,” he said. “That’s kind of the point of the whole thing.”
Montserrate had said after Zippy finished second two times: “My horse he been losing real close lately.”
“When I wake up one day and everything’s going wrong and the world will not co-operate and I’m trying my damnest and all hell is breaking loose and I’m managing to keep my head above water I think to myself, ‘losing real close today,’ that’s plenty close enough,” Thomas said. “That’s my new motto.”
You can order the book through Haliburton’s Master’s Bookstore.