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Despite game effort, Zippy Chippy gets zip

NORTHAMPTON -- Zippy Chippy had the look of a winner in the first race yesterday at the Three County Fair. The fans gathered in the weather-beaten grandstand thought they might be witnessing history. But neither a fast start nor an objection filed against winner Short Notice could change Zippy Chippy's fortunes. He finished a length and a half behind, in second place, and retained his title as the losingest thoroughbred in history. It was the eighth time he has placed. He is now 0 for 98.

But by overcoming a poor post position and leading for three-quarters of the race, he gave owner/trainer Felix Monserrate hope. Zippy Chippy's effort also drew praise from many fans who came to the Three County Fair thinking the 12-year-old horse would be a sorry sideshow.

"I wouldn't bet on him if there was only two horses racing," said Rick Dunphy of Chicopee.

Monserrate acquired Zippy Chippy in exchange for an old pickup truck worth about $500. Early in his career, Zippy Chippy stalled out of the starting gate. Now, it appears he just doesn't have the most competitive mentality.

"It looks like he likes to see the horses in front of him," said Monserrate. "And he doesn't like to pass."

That was not the case yesterday. Despite starting from the outermost gate in the eight-horse field, Zippy Chippy was in the lead by the first turn of the 5-furlong race. By going out strong, he avoided being pushed outside on the sharp first turn. That could have been disastrous. (Program seller John Glover of Palmer recalled a horse once getting pushed into one of the telephone poles that ring the track.)

Zippy Chippy kept the lead until the final turn, when he was overtaken by Short Notice. Monserrate thought Zippy Chippy, who has not raced since April, simply tired.

Following the race, Willie Belmonte, who rode Unblessed, charged Short Notice with interference on the first turn. An official review determined there was no interference, but for the five minutes it took to handle the objection, Zippy Chippy was as close as he has ever been to winning.

Given yesterday's performance, Monserrate believes the streak may end in the next race, possibly next week.

"I thought he was going to win," said Monserrate. "I'm really happy. He ran a good race. I have to keep going with him. When a horse runs like that, you know he wants to win a race. Are you going to stop him now? He might kick me and kill me."

Zippy Chippy has always been more chippy than zippy. He is known as a "mean horse." Try to pet him and he jerks away. When it came time for the 1:30 p.m. post, it took longer than usual to coax a disagreeable Zippy Chippy into the gate.

But he has proven to be even more reluctant to retire. Monserrate tried to put Zippy Chippy out to pasture, but the thoroughbred became melancholy and didn't eat.

"These animals get used to a stall like this since they are babies," said Monserrate. "It's like a person working all his life in a company someplace and retiring. Sometimes they get sick and die.

"He's happy and he eats when he's in the stall. I think he loves to be on the racetrack." There is also a part of Monserrate that sees Zippy Chippy as a child, albeit one in need of counseling. Monserrate asks Zippy Chippy why he often does not start well, why he does not win, and feeds him peppermint candies before races.

"I've been talking to him and asking him," said Monserrate, "but he doesn't say nothing to me yet, except when he's hungry."

Still, Monserrate will keep racing Zippy Chippy.

"If you have three kids and one is a lawyer and one is a doctor and one doesn't make enough money, you're not going to kick him out of your house," said Monserrate. "You have to support him and try to get him better and better. He's like my kid. I know he doesn't run fast now, but I have to encourage him."

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