A Losing Tradition

Jockie Eugene Olmo Jr., riding Zippy Chippy, left, passes pacer Paddy's Laddy, being driven by Cat Manzi, Saturday, March 17, 2001 AP

Race day at the Fairgrounds in North Hampton, Mass., could be an historic race, involving a horse named Zippy Chippy.

History-making runs in Zippy Chippy's family. The horse is the grandson of Northern Dancer, who won both the Preakness Stakes and Kentucky Derby, and is one of the most storied thoroughbreds in the annals of racing.

But Zippy's story is not as pretty, because the horse has never been in the winners' circle. He holds the all-time record for losing — 86 straight losses.

"Zippy is my son," says Zippy's owner and trainer Felix Manserrate. "Every time he runs, he makes me feel good. He needs somebody to keep going with him and talk to … I know he's going to win. But when, I don't know."

Some might think a thoroughbred with such great bloodlines might cost a lot of money. But Manserrate got Zippy Chippy as a trade-in on his 1985 white Ford van with 188,000 miles on it.

Who got the better of the deal? It depends on who is asked. Manserrate says it was a good trade for him. And the van is still running.

Before his race in Massachusetts, Zippy the underdog had been training and resting up at his upstate New York farm. He hadn't raced in a year since being banned at the local Finger Lakes Race Track, to protect the betting public.

"The problem was with the Zipster coming out of the gate," recalls racing steward Rick Koyne.

Zippy didn't come out of the gate during his race.

"It's bad for the horse and it's bad for the gamblers that are betting on that horse also," says Koyne. "I think he needs a horse psychologist."

Manserrate says he feeds Zippy a good diet and talks to him, but nothing has worked yet to make him run faster.

"He's going to win whenever he wants to win," says Manserrate.

Unable to race other horses, Zippy had a race this summer against a minor league baseball player, which Zippy unfortunately lost.

Jockey Pedro Castillo rode him in that loss and many others. He says he would love to be on Zippy when he wins his first race.

Zippy seemed a little down after losing to a human. And reporters wrote nasty things about him.

"I wish [Zippy] knew how to read," says Manserrate. "I betcha he would have kicked a couple of [reporters] already."

Manserrate believes Zippy will break his streak at the North Hampton races. Why? Well for one thing, the North Hampton Fair is not exactly Churchill Downs.

"We try to have fun here, to give the cheap horse a chance," says North Hampton Fair's racing secretary Tom Creel. "The horse still deserves a shot … The horse is trying."

Zippy has lots of fans at North Hampton, and he has become something of a cult figure. A lot of them are putting money on him.

His five to two odds are good. Even the guy selling tip sheets believes maybe this time Zippy will make history of his own.

Soon the race was off and Zippy was actually leading. But, being Zippy Chippy, he loses his 87th race by a neck or a nose to a horse with a 65-year-old jockey.

"I want [Zippy] to win, but second is good," says Manserrate. "That was a good race."

But Manserrate and Zippy are not discouraged. Second isn't bad, and it keeps their dream alive.

"I'm proud that he keeps trying," says Manserrate. "I'm proud that he wants to run. I'm proud that he gave me a good race.

Someday, Zippy Chippy is going to reach the winners' circle, just like his grandfather. But don't bet money on it.

Original Air date 9/17/00
  • Rome Neal

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