Transcript of Episode 6, Oct. 30, 2017
Note: All links to Amazon on this page are affiliate links, meaning we get a fee if you use the link to make a purchase.
KING KAUFMAN: I want to tell you about a racehorse.
LENNY RAUCCI: This horse has the desire to just win. And they knew he was going to be great.
KAUFMAN: Wait, no, that’s not the horse.
CONNIE BUSH: He’s kind of slow moving. So I went down there one day and he was galloping, or he was cantering, probably. It was a gallop for him.
KAUFMAN: That’s the horse.
VOICE MONTAGE: Zippy Chippy … 100 races won, 100 races lost.
KAUFMAN: Zippy Chippy is a direct descendent of some of the greatest horses of all time. Ever heard of Man o’ War? He’s an ancestor. So are three Triple Crown winners and the greatest broodmare of the 20th century.
In thoroughbred racing, bloodlines are everything. For Zippy Chippy, they didn’t amount to much.
WILLIAM THOMAS: Guy next to me, we started talking horses. I used to play the ponies when I was in university. And the track was right there.
KAUFMAN: This is William Thomas. He’s a Canadian writer, and one day in a bar in Upstate New York, in search of a cold beer after a long hike, he got an introduction that led to his book: The Legend of Zippy Chippy.
THOMAS: I’m sure I was telling him stories about Secretariat, the greatest thoroughbred that ever raced, and he said to me, “You know, we’ve kind of got Secretariat the opposite here.” I said “What the hell would that be?” He said, “This is a horse that went to post 100 times and never won.” I said “You’ve got to be kidding!”
KAUFMAN: He wasn’t kidding. Zippy Chippy began his career on September 13th, 1994 at Belmont Park in New York. He finished eighth. 10 years later, almost to the day, he ran for the 100th and last time. He’d long since been banished from the big tracks. This race was at a fairgrounds in Massachusetts. He finished eighth.
RAUCCI: Sometimes I think about in families where you got different kids and some kids are good at something.
KAUFMAN: Lenny Raucci (pronounced Rossi) is a volunteer at the farm where Zippy Chippy lives now with 15 other retired racehorses.
RAUCCI: Well, Zippy was a racehorse, and, you know, he had a number on his back and odds, but that wasn’t his thing.
KAUFMAN: A year into his career, Zippy Chippy had already lost 20 straight races and he was on his third owner, with the selling price dropping each time — from $8,000 to 2,500 to, hey want to take this horse off my hands?
His latest owner was a groom at Finger Lakes racetrack near Rochester, New York. The groom traded Zippy to his boss for an old Ford van. That boss was Felix Monserrate, a 52-year-old trainer. William Thomas says Felix saw himself in Zippy Chippy: Someone who didn’t win a lot, but he worked hard and he was most happy when he was at the track.
THOMAS: You had a trainer and a thoroughbred racehorse, both professionals, who weren’t very good at what they did. You know, Felix wasn’t the best trainer in the world, and Zippy certainly wasn’t the fastest horse in the world. But they were part of the game. You know, they loved what they did, they loved the backside, they loved their lives.
KAUFMAN: Love. That’s a word you don’t hear a lot around racetracks.
THOMAS: The rule of the track is never fall in love with a horse.
KAUFMAN: Felix Monserrate broke that rule. And because of that, Zippy Chippy broke records for losing. And became a star.
I’m King Kaufman, and this is Can’t Win 4 Losing, a podcast about losing. In this episode, Zippy Chippy. 0 for 100 at the post. But it turns out there’s more to this nag’s story than the track. Saddle up, it may not be the fastest ride, but it’s gonna be a bumpy one. This is Can’t Win 4 Losing.
JOANN PEPPER: Here’s Commentator. He won the Whitney twice.
KAUFMAN: I’m in a work utility vehicle with JoAnn Pepper. She’s driving me around Old Friends at Cabin Creek, that’s a thoroughbred retirement farm she runs near Saratoga Springs, New York.
PEPPER: That’s Be Bullish, and his friend the quarterhorse, Patrick. He came off the track at 10 years old, and didn’t know how to be a horse at all, and he was scared and he really didn’t like other horses.
KAUFMAN: I’ve always loved the way horse people talk. Like I think it’s cool how after a smooth race jockeys’ll say they “got a good trip.” So what does she mean “how to be a horse?” Well, they’re herd animals, but racing thoroughbreds are so pampered and isolated, they don’t develop social skills, so they sometimes have to learn, you know, how to be a horse.
I asked her if this was a problem for Zippy Chippy.
PEPPER: Well, I wasn’t with Zippy when he first came off the track but I think he lived like he was retired the whole time. After every race when he would lose he would prance back to the barn like he won because he got fed either way, so he kind of had figured a lot of it out, I think.
MARY EDDIE: When I came here and I learned about him and I just saw what a personality he has …
KAUFMAN: Mary Eddie is another volunteer at Old Friends.
EDDIE: … that kind of made me realize how individual these horses are. Zippy kind of sealed that for me. They don’t always do what they’re asked, they have a mind of their own, they do what they want to do. Zippy is really, really different.
KAUFMAN: Are you hearing between the lines here? If this is the part of the story where you’re expecting to hear that Zippy was a lovable loser, a happy-go-lucky sweetheart, forget it. Zippy’s 26 and he’s kind of a cantankerous old buzzard. When he was younger, he was the same way. William Thomas.
THOMAS: Nobody got too close to him, even the grooms and the hotwalkers were very leery. He grabbed Felix one time by the scruff of his jacket. Felix wasn’t paying attention. Zippy got him by his shirt and jacket at the back, and held him off the ground for about 15 minutes. And Felix is waving his arms around and screaming and yelling.
KAUFMAN: People ran over from the other barns to see what the ruckus was, but they couldn’t help poor Felix — they were all laughing too hard.
THOMAS: Forget about Man ‘o War and Bold Ruler, Zippy’s ancestors. The ancestors of these two were probably Laurel and Hardy.
KAUFMAN: That’s the thing: If you kept yourself out of biting distance, Zippy Chippy WAS lovable. As the losses mounted, so did his fan base.
RAUCCI: He’s like the Rocky of horses.
KAUFMAN: Old Friends volunteer Lenny Raucci.
RAUCCI: He lost all the time but people started loving him more and more, and I just think America loves the underdog, and people know that he gave it all, he gave 100 percent every time. Maybe not all the time. Sometimes he don’t leave the gate, but most of the time he gave his all and I think people love that.
KAUFMAN: Whoa, wait a minute. Sometimes he didn’t leave the gate?
THOMAS: Well, he dwelt. He dwelt three times, and dwelling is not coming out of the gate slowly. Dwelling is not coming out of the gate at all.
KAUFMAN: This might come as a shock, but track officials were not too hot on this routine. Another thing they didn’t love: The more Zippy lost, the more people bet on him. By the time he hung around the starting gate in three straight races, he’d been at Finger Lakes for three years, and he was a big attraction. The grandstands filled up and people put their money on his nose. Whether they wanted the ticket with his name on it or they didn’t want to miss out if he ever won, they routinely sent him off as the favorite, even though he should have been 99-1. Or 900-1.
The track masters had enough, and they banned Zippy in 1998.
THOMAS: And Bob Matthews, who was a columnist for the Gannett newspapers, and he wrote out of Rochester, he was really the one who got the Zippy Chippy bandwagon going with his columns and stuff like that. You know, he really went at the track after they banned Zippy. And the track said he’s making us look bush league. And Bob Matthews said “Have you looked around this place?”
KAUFMAN: This wasn’t just a heave-ho from one scruffy racetrack outside Rochester. Zippy couldn’t race in New York state, and as Felix found out when he tried to run him at Garden State Park in New Jersey, any state could choose to sign on to the ban. And most did.
Felix Monserrate’s friends in the business wondered why he insisted on keeping the horse on the track.
THOMAS: They kept telling Felix, “Put this horse in the fence.” Retire him. And he tried twice, and Zippy got depressed, and he started not to eat, and when this horse stops eating, you know you’ve got a serious problem, because Zippy ate everything. He once ate a pizza while it was still in the box.
KAUFMAN: When Zippy was banished, he’d lost his first 85 races, tying the American record for the most consecutive losses at the start of a career. Amazingly, the other two horses who lost their first 85 races both won number 86, so if Zippy Chippy lost one more, he’d own the record.
He got that chance at the Three Counties Fair in Northampton, Massachusetts. Fairgrounds are the low minor leagues of thoroughbred racing, but when you’re 0-for-85 …
He went to Massachusetts and finished third. With the record for futility in hand, or in hoof, Zippy went looking for new challenges. And he found one, closer to home.
JUNE SHAW: He was a star — loser — out in the Rochester area.
KAUFMAN: This is June Shaw, another volunteer at Old Friends. She has the quarterhorse Patrick who lives at the farm. He’s the one who taught Be Bullish how to be a horse. Remember that at the beginning? Anyway, back to Zippy.
SHAW: He raced a baseball player.
KAUFMAN: Whoa, wait, what? I think I got distracted by Patrick the quarterhorse. Did you say he raced? A baseball …??
SHAW: He raced a baseball player.
KAUFMAN: It was Zippy Chippy against Jose Herrera, the speedy center fielder for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, 40 yards in the outfield.
THOMAS: Now, you gotta picture this: Zippy had fans. I mean, you know, he was a big deal. People magazine put him on the cover as one of the 50 most intriguing personalities in America. So 10,000 people are screaming and yelling. And the crowd starts chanting: 9, 8, 7. Somewhere around 4, Zippy starts eating the grass. And he’s thinking “This grass is really sweet. They pee on that stuff over at the track,” right? And the jockey tried to get him into position, and all of a sudden the baseball player takes off early, the jockey hits Zippy in the ass, and it’s all over in about five and a half seconds.
KAUFMAN: Jose Herrera won. Zippy lost.
JOSE HERRERA (vintage recording): Hey I beat him! I told you! I told you guys, I beat him.
THOMAS: Pedro Castillo was the jockey. And I tracked Pedro Castillo down in Philadelphia. I said Pedro I got a mathematical question for you. What the — happened here? And Pedro said, “We closed real strong, but we run out of real estate.”
KAUFMAN: The next year, the Red Wings invited Zippy back. They made the race 50 yards, and that was too much for the ballplayer. Zippy got his win, this time over Darnell McDonald, another outfielder. McDonald is now 38 and, like Zippy, retired. He works in the front office for the Chicago Cubs. This summer the Red Wings called him and asked if he’d be interested in a rematch. Against an arthritic old horse? McDonald said yes. JoAnn Pepper of Old Friends farm, who refers to herself as Zippy’s mom, said …
PEPPER: No. Cause Zippy’s old. I didn’t want anything to happen to Zippy and I didn’t want Zippy to lose. So I said no. But come visit him! But he never came, so hopefully he will come.
KAUFMAN: The Cubs did not respond to my request to interview McDonald. But I did get to interview Zippy Chippy.
PEPPER: Zippy’s easy to bribe with candy.
KAUFMAN: Other than chewing, Zippy declined comment. I think. I didn’t want to get too close.
Beating a baseball player in a 50-yard race may have been a high point for Zippy Chippy, but there were others. He finished in the money 20 times. Once, he came in second twice in a row. Here’s William Thomas.
THOMAS: This was like Felix’s like triple crown, right? Felix called it his “backa-ta-bacca.”
KAUFMAN: Felix had a Puerto Rican accent. He’d moved to Florida in the early ’60s to be an exercise rider and then later up to New York.
THOMAS: Felix had a big smile on his face and he was proud as hell and he said “My horse, he been losing real close lately.”
KAUFMAN: After Felix finally retired Zippy in 2004, he had a short, disastrous career as an exercise pony at Finger Lakes, and then he just kind of hung out for a few years before Felix grudgingly agreed to sell him to Old Friends. JoAnn Pepper.
PEPPER: Felix, this was his claim to fame, and when he pulled up in the truck he had Zippy’s name painted on the side of the truck, it was kind of crooked. That was adorable. But anyway, Zippy looked like he was crying. And I was like “The horse is crying. He doesn’t want to leave Felix. I can’t believe it.” Felix never told me that he had allergies and some kind of abscess growing that made it look like he was crying. Felix was like, Yeah, he loves me.
KAUFMAN: Do horses cry?
PEPPER: No. No. They do get sad, though and they miss their friends.
KAUFMAN: Zippy never showed any signs of missing Felix, who loved him but also yelled at him.
FELIX MONSERRATE (vintage recording): Zippy! Come and eat! Dale!
KAUFMAN: This is Felix visiting Zippy on the farm, trying to get him to come over to him. No dice. Felix died in 2015.
At Old Friends, Zippy would meet a new best friend. Red Down South. Red only raced 31 times but he won twice and he earned $116,000, about four times as much as Zippy Chippy’s lifetime earnings. There’s a photo of the moment they met — they gently touched noses — and they’ve been inseperable ever since.
RAUCCI: These guys are a match made in heaven.
KAUFMAN: Lenny Raucci is trying to tell some visitors about a time Red had to be tranquilized, he was so upset when Zippy had to go to the vet. But he can’t do it because Zippy’s kicking at the gate
RAUCCI: Well, the vet came here and they put him on the trailer … hey …
KAUFMAN: Just to be a pest.
RAUCCI: Just so you know, what I normally do is I walk down here, because he’s going to be just like a drum.
KAUFMAN: The reason Old Friends wanted Zippy was that the owner of the farm, Michael Blowen, thought he’d be good for fund-raising. Old Friends exists on donations. It’s one small part of a solution to a problem in the thoroughbred industry: What happens to retired horses? The superstars live in luxury and work as studs and broodmares. A few are retrained for other work or even live as pets. For most, though, life after the track can be grim.
PEPPER: A lot of horses are given away and end up in a field, nobody caring for them.
KAUFMAN: JoAnn Pepper, Zippy’s “mom.” And it could be worse than that.
PEPPER: Kill-buyers. It used to be big business. I mean, it maybe still is. But in the old days, even 30 years ago, trucks would just pull up to the racetrack and take all the horses that nobody wanted right to slaughter. And now slaughter is illegal in the United States at this point, but now it’s turned into a longer trip. They go to Canada or to Mexico and the slaughterhouses are still there.
KAUFMAN: There are great champions at Old Friends — horses who won millions of dollars, ran in the Triple Crown events, won big races. Farm owner Michael Blowen was right: The star attraction is a grumpy old poop who ran 100 times and lost 100 times.
THOMAS: I never really thought about a message for this book, and then I started looking at winning and losing.
KAUFMAN: William Thomas
THOMAS: You know, Vince Lombardi, who said “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” I mean, how many performance enhancing drugs has that given us? This win at all costs is the worst message we can send our kids. Let’s face it, Zippy in the end did win big. I mean, this is the most beautiful irony of any story I’ve ever come across. They come to the farm to see Zippy.
They’ve had Behrens there and Funny Cide. These were great horses. They made a lot of money. Zippy is now earning enough money by selling his souvenirs and his mugs and his T-shirts, he’s helping now support 22 other racehorses on that retirement farm, and they did win races.
KAUFMAN: I found Zippy Chippy by accident, stumbled on him when I was looking for something else — the story of a horse that always lost by a lot. I remember as kid hearing vintage old-timey radio broadcasts where the track announcer goes through the names of the horses in the race and then says “aaaaand it’s” — whatever that horse’s name was — “bringing up the rear.”
Or something like that. The horse was famous for being behind is the thing. I figured it must have been a comedy routine, because horses that are always way behind don’t get into big races. Now I think I might have been remembering Silky Sullivan, who was famous in the ’50s for coming from miles back to win.
Zippy Chippy’s story is kind of the same thing in super slow motion, the long game. Like William Thomas says, he did win in the end. But here’s another thing I like to think about. Remember that first mention of Zippy in this episode?
BUSH: He’s kind of slow moving. So I went down there one day and he was galloping, or he was cantering probably. It was a gallop for him.
KAUFMAN: That was Connie Bush, the photographer at Old Friends and nearby Saratoga Race Course. She was kind of giving her friend Zippy the old needle there, but when you talk about a horse that lost 100 times, it’s easy to picture him as some kind of stumblebum.
Zippy finished in the money 20 times — 8 seconds and 12 thirds, and some of those were at the big tracks early in his career — Belmont, Aquaduct, Suffolk Downs. He never made the winner’s circle, but he was a thoroughbred, and even a slow thoroughbred is pretty damn fast.
This is a podcast about losing, and a lot of the losing we cover is in the big time, where you’ve already beaten most of the world just to get there. Keep that in mind, if you would. Felix Monserrate was right to be proud of Zippy Chippy for finishing second twice in a row. It takes a lot to lose real close.
* * *
You can help the horses by going to oldfriendsatcabincreek.com and clicking Donate or Volunteer. You can also just visit the place. It’s located in Greenfield Center, New York. You can call them at 518-698-2377.
William Thomas’ book is called The Legend of Zippy Chippy: Life Lessons From Racing’s Most Lovable Loser. You can buy it at CantWinPodcast.com or wherever you get books. He says he’s written a stage play that will start making the rounds of summer theaters in Southern Ontario and western New York in the summer of 2018. And not for the first time, there’s talk of a Zippy Chippy movie.
* * *
Can’t Win For Losing is written, edited and produced by me, King Kaufman, with mastering and production help from Geoffrey Redick. Artwork by Chris Morris. Visit him at ChrisMorrisIllustration.com.
To go behind the scenes on Can’t Win 4 Losing, to see photos and get more information on the stories and music in the podcast, go to our website, CantWinPodcast.com.
The opening theme is Big Swing Band by Audionautix at Audionautix.com. The closing theme is “Can’t Win For Losing” by Johnny Rawls, courtesy of Deep South Soul Records. Go to JohnnyRawlsBlues.com and find out when Johnny will be playing near you. You can also buy his music there, and you can buy it at CantWinPodcast.com.
Subscribe to the show and write a review if you would. It helps us a lot. Follow us on Facebook at Can’t Win 4 Losing – that’s the number 4. Can’t Win 4 Losing. On Twitter and Instagram we’re at CantWinPodcast. If you’ve got a story about losing in your own life, call us up and tell it. We’ll give you fifty bucks if we use it in the show. The number is 510-646-1082.
This episode of Can’t Win For Losing is dedicated to Henny Youngman.
HENNY YOUNGMAN: I played a horse so slow the jockey kept a diary of the trip. The jockey hit the horse, the horse turned around and said “What are you hitting me for? There’s nobody behind us.”
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.