Zippy Chippy belied his name during a remarkable winless streak, failing to win even any of his 100 starts during a career at track in the Northeast. His futility earned the hapless loser a spot on People magazine’s list of the most interesting personalities.
Now, the 21-year-old dark brown gelding who last raced in 2004 has emerged from the pack as a lovable ambassador for the humane treatment of old horses no longer able to bring in money from racing or breeding to pay their feed and veterinarian bills.
Nicknamed Zippy, the horse is spending a few weeks lolling in a paddock and munching carrots and grass at Old Friends, a central Kentucky farm for retired thoroughbreds. He’s due to return in September to his permanent home – another Old Friends retirement farm at Greenfield Center, N.Y.
Zippy arrived in bluegrass country last week along with his constant sidekick, fellow gelding Red Down South. They share a spacious paddock at the 92-acre farm that’s home to past stakes race winners, Triple Crown also-rans and the offspring of Kentucky Derby champions.
But it’s Zippy who’s quickly passing them as a star attraction.
Old Friends, which relies on donations to care for dozens of horses, is hoping to capitalize on Zippy’s notoriety. A fundraiser is planned next month along with a line of Zippy-inspired merchandise. The farm plans to start selling caps, T-shirts and mugs emblazoned with a cartoon drawing of Zippy along with the motto “Winners Don’t Always Finish First.”
The marketing campaign may show that Zippy isn’t such a loser after all in a region that reveres thoroughbred champions.
“I guarantee you that within a year Zippy Chippy will earn more in retirement than he did on the track,” said Michael Blowen, founder and president of Old Friends farm.
Zippy earned just over $30,000 in racing, mostly from a number of second- and third-place finishes.
All the money from Zippy-inspired merchandise will go to support the farm, which has about $600,000 in yearly expenses despite a stable of volunteers including veterinarians, Blowen said. The farm is home to 46 horses.
Blowen, a retired movie critic for The Boston Globe, said Zippy’s life script resonates with people.
“I think more people can identify with a horse that loses all the time than a horse that wins all the time,” he said. “I think that’s part of the fun of it. Because there are more losers in the world than winners.”
Blowen bought Zippy for $5,000 a couple of years ago from the horse’s longtime owner-trainer, Felix Monserrate.
Monserrate acquired the horse in a 1995 trade with Zippy’s breeder for an old van.
Zippy eats about $50 worth of food each week, a diet that includes hay and a special feed that includes grains plus molasses and bran oil to help with digestion, Blowen said. But the investment could pay off for the farm and its mission to give horses a comfortable retirement.
Blowen said he sees Zippy as an ambassador in the campaign to find suitable homes for the thousands of thoroughbreds no longer able to race or breed. It’s an endeavor that resonated with farm visitor Pam Machuga.
“They deserve some respect,” she said. “Work hard your whole life, this is what you deserve – a big pasture.”