The second author at the January Grimsby Author Series event was William Thomas. He wrote Zippy Chippy: Life Lessons from Horse RAcing’s Most Lovable Loser. I have to be honest, that I was struggling with the book. I enjoyed the underlying story but was bogged down with the details about his lineage, other horses and racing in general. Whatever I may have thought prior to the talk, I was refreshed to hear William Thomas speak – he was funny, engaging and so enthusiastic about his book and this horse that I went home to finish the book with a fresh perspective.
Thomas had been in a bar when he first heard the story of Zippy Chippy. As he listened, he asked where he could find the book. There wasn’t one so he began his research and wrote the story. The day the book launched, it sold out on amazon!
The story of Zippy Chippy is unique. He had a strong genetic history of winners. As an individual who had not thought of horse racing since voraciously reading the Black Stallion series (or anything about horses) as a teen, I did recognize the names of Northern Dancer and Man O’War in his family tree. The owner had been hopeful that his DNA would lead to first place finishes but, unfortunately for his original owners, Zippy loved to race but could not finish first. After 6 losses, he was traded to Felix Monserrate – for an old truck!
Felix was an ambitious horse trainer and came to love the horse who definitely had a mind of his own. He would pin people in his stall, bite them, steal hats and steal donuts (if people walked to close to his stall) yet had a special relationship with Felix’s young daughter. He ran to his own standards, slowing to bite an opponent or taking the wide side of the track to avoid bumping into others. He loved to race and even after disappointing finishes was proud of his accomplishments. In the world of racing, most owners would have sold him (sadly he might have ended auctioned off to a glue factory) but Felix had a special place in his heart and continued to race this beast for 100 races! He never won one against another horse. He did, however, succeed in beating a baseball player in an exhibition race.
He may not have come first, but he did win the hearts of fans. They would bet on Zippy when odds were strongly against him. He had a fan club. T-shirts and mugs were sold. Fans came to watch him race and rooted for the underdog! He still has his followers now that he has retired to Old Friends at Cabin Creek where he has inseparable from his pal, Red Down South. He makes more money in retirement than he ever did in racing making “enough money to support 22 other horses who were winners” at the retirement farm!
William Thomas clearly loves horse racing. He spent hours “playing the ponies” in Fort Erie when he was a student and shared that racing is a dying sport (Zippy will likely outlive the Finger Lakes track which banned him). He had a great sense of humour and had the audience laughing about the creative names of race horses such as 50 Shades of Hay or Another Horse. He said that he would never have called this horse Zippy Chippy but would have named him Crazy Ass!
Thomas had to audience considering the societal pressures to win at all costs. Zippy provided a lesson about perseverance and never giving up. He feels that the real message should be that “failure is not losing, failure is how we learn to win” and that we need to teach our kids to “fail better”. He pointed out that “life is not about the trophy but about the trying” and that we all need to “bounce back” from failure. Great messages for kids! The author’s new motto came from Felix: “losing real close is plenty close enough”!
If you get a chance to listen to William Thomas, he is a great speaker and with a comedic sense of humour. He had high praise for the Grimsby Author Series and had hosted a similar series in Port Colborne. If you are interested in more details about Zippy Chippy, watch for a stage play and movie which are to be made about him.