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Lovable loser Zippy Chippy dies at almost 31

Zippy Chippy in 2013. (Bill Littlefield/Only A Game)
Zippy Chippy in 2013. (Bill Littlefield/Only A Game)

(WXXI Public Media) - A racehorse who was famous for never winning crossed the final finish line last week. Zippy Chippy died Friday at the Old Friends Thoroughbred Farm in Greenfield Center, New York, near Saratoga, where he retired about 12 years ago. As the story goes, Zippy Chippy was acquired by his owner-trainer, Felix Montserrate, in 1995 in a trade involving a Ford truck. The dark bay gelding had promise, with a bloodline that included a 1943 Triple Crown winner Count Fleet. But Zippy never won a single race in his career. And that became his claim to fame. His obstinate nature made him the sport's most lovable loser. He was banned from competing at several tracks for such antics as refusing to leave the starting gate. "He was just very content and happy, until you asked him to do something," recalled Old Friends co-owner and manager, Joanne Pepper. "Then he was like, 'No!'" Although he never entered the winner's circle, Zippy Chippy came close. Of his 100 races, he finished second eight times and came in third place 12 times. He competed several times at Belmont Park and Aqueduct, but mostly ran at smaller tracks. His second career involved visits to minor league ball parks, fairs, and other venues. In 2001, Zippy Chippy outran Rochester Red Wings outfielder Darnell McDonald by a length in a race at Frontier Field. He also won against a harness horse in which he spotted the trotter a 20-length lead. In 2000, he made People magazine's list of the year's most intriguing personalities. Pepper said Zippy Chippy lived a happy retirement at the Old Friends Farm, eating to his heart's content and welcoming visitors on regular tours. His stablemate, Red Down South, was a devoted friend. Pepper credits the horse with keeping Zippy Chippy active in his final years. His death came suddenly. "I really thought he was gonna live 10 more years," Pepper said. "I thought that was his next record, the oldest thoroughbred." Zippy Chippy would have turned 31 on April 20. Pepper likes to think he left this world as he lived — on his own terms. "It was a blessing for him to not be sick or confined in the barn," she said. When asked why she thinks people loved the horse, Pepper said fans probably just appreciated his headstrong ways. "Winners don't always finish first," she said. The details haven’t been finalized, but Pepper said the sanctuary is planning a memorial tribute to Zippy Chippy on Saturday. Includes reporting from The Associated Press.