April 28, 2010

Labor Pains, Dad, and the Derby

I’m not sure if my story is unique, but it has led me to becoming a huge fan of Thoroughbred horse racing. Let me begin from the beginning. On June 5, 1969 a male baby was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey. By the time Brian Daniel Zipse was introduced to the world, I was already destined to love the horses. Flash back a few year earlier, and so the joke goes…my father and mother had just arrived to the parking lot of Arlington Park, when my very pregnant mother turned and said, “I think I am going into labor!” My dad, already looking at his racing form, countered with, “OK, let me go in and play the Double and then we’ll head to the hospital.” I honestly do not know how much of that anecdote is based in reality, but that is how my father tells it, and I am sticking to it. It can be no wonder that the result of the pregnancy, my older brother David, and I would love horse racing. We are our father’s sons.

My father was a first generation horse fan, as he became enthralled with the sport in his late teens. He was fortunate enough to have a buddy that indoctrinated him to the ways of racing in Chicago in the 1950’s. I was even more fortunate. My father would take his young sons to the races all the time. By the time I was born, the small Zipse clan had moved to the East Coast, and while Chicago had great racing in the 50’s and 60’s, New York more than ever, was the center of the racing universe. As a tyke, we would make the trek over the George Washington and Throgs Neck Bridges on a regular basis to get to Belmont Park. In those days New Jersey had a rule that you had to be twelve years old to enter their racetracks, so Belmont was the place for us to be. Good thing too. I witnessed horses like Secretariat, Riva Ridge, Ruffian, Forego, and Wajima at a very young age. Yes, I was there when Secretariat stormed home by 31 lengths to win the Triple Crown. I still remember the grandstand shaking beneath my four-year-old feet. It seemed Belmont had stars running each and every Saturday.

By the time I was nine, I started breaking New Jersey’s age rule. A big kid… I was never carded. Monmouth Park became my second racing home, but Belmont was still racing’s hub. Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Alydar, and Spectacular Bid helped me complete my first decade of life. While I enjoyed many sports growing up, my favorite heroes were always of the four-legged variety. At Belmont Park we would often meet up with my dad’s racing buddies. Guys like Belmont Bill would become like surrogate uncles to me. Half the fun of going to the races in those days, was listening to the magical language the adults used when talking about the horses. I am proud to say I could talk horses and read the Form at the age most kids were tackling Curious George. My dad and his buddies knew what they were talking about. By the way, Belmont Bill would soon become noted handicapping author Dr. William Quirin.

Another chapter in my horse racing journey came when my dad and those same buddies formed a partnership to buy a few broodmares. In their infinite wisdom, the group targeted Explodent as their broodmare sire of choice. The newly formed Triomphe Farm had legendary trainer P.G. Johnson claim one Explodent filly and then another soon after. The partnership included only intelligent men, who also happened to be opinionated. Not surprisingly, it would only last a handful of years. While it did last, it was a lot of fun. We would visit the mares at their New York farm, feeding them apples and carrots. We followed intently the progress of the foals they produced, and when one of the first, a daughter of our first broodmare, Triomphe’s Glory won a New York bred allowance at Belmont, it was a different and special kind of feeling. Even though we had sold the filly at auction, it was fabulous to see her succeed. As I mentioned, the partnership disbanded and the Zipse family was no longer in the breeding business, but those days helped to affirm my love not only of racing but of the horses themselves.

I was always an animal lover, so much so, that my parents always thought I would grow up to be a veterinarian. While that never happened, horses always held a special place in my heart. I consider them to be the most beautiful and majestic creatures on God’s earth, and I will love them until the day I die. I believe my appreciation for horses as individuals only adds to my appreciation of the game, and as you can probably tell by now, the game is in my blood. I am lucky enough to love both sides, the beauty of the game and the horse, as well as the analytical side. There is not much better than studying the Daily Racing Form and solving the mathematical puzzle of how the race should unfold. For me racing is the perfect combination of sport, nature, and testing my cognitive abilities.

Growing up, it was never a consideration to let the horses fade from my full attention. Some of my favorite childhood memories are the trips we would make centered around the horses. Day trips to Delaware Park and vacations up to Saratoga were especially memorable. In my teens, the equine heroes kept coming. Maybe not quite like the glory days of the 70’s, but racing always has stars, and I have always been there to appreciate them. Horses like Princess Rooney, Lady’s Secret, and Sunday Silence gave me pure joy to watch. They also gave me something always to look forward to. When it came time to go off to college, the University of Louisville was a natural choice. While my grades at U of L may have suffered, I had a great group of friends, and I was in the heart of horse country. Heaven. We had made trips before to see racing at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, but I had never been to the biggest day of racing itself, the Kentucky Derby.

My first Derby in person was in 1990. It was amazing. The whole week is one big celebration, as the city of Louisville swells to twice its normal population. Twenty or so of my college friends and I filed into the Churchill Downs infield. We batted about 50% in sneaking in our illegal contraband, mostly good old fashioned Kentucky bourbon, so the party was on. While many were there strictly for Kentucky’s biggest party, I was also there for the great horses. My first infield was quite the scene, but I was able to still remain true to my roots. I made bets and watched what I could see of the races. Many of my friends followed me and listened intently to my picks, as I was the resident horse expert, and somehow, someway the day ended as happily as I could have possibly hoped. Through the alcohol induced haze, and the frolicking, in what had become the mud-field, my friends and I witnessed a powerful colt burst past the pack and easily win that Kentucky Derby. His name was Unbridled, and he had been the horse I had been picking all Spring. At 10-1, he rewarded all of his backers handsomely. I was one of them and so were many of my friends. Unbridled was the day’s star, but my friends looked at me as if I was a handicapping god as they cashed in. Some of them are still fans of racing to this day. Silly I know, but it was a great day.

As I became a responsible adult, my love for racing never waned. From the days working as a hotwalker in college to following the sport closely ever since, I always fantasized about a career of some sort in racing. It never really happened until something amazing occurred. A filly named Rachel Alexandra came into my life. I became so completely enamored with her, that it energized me to start writing about the game I love in earnest. Thanks to encouragement from so many wonderful people involved in this great sport, like my writing idol, Steve Haskin, I started my own blog, Zipse at the Track. It has been my way of expressing my love for Thoroughbred horse racing, and it is my sincere hope that in some small way it has helped attract more fans to the game. Just as I had parents who helped me nurture my love for horses, I now am lucky to have a wife who supports my great interest. We also have a not quite two-year-old daughter who loves to watch the horses with her daddy. Many of you have read my writing, and as I embark on a new project, an online racing magazine called ZATT the Magazine, I hope you will continue to enjoy my small contribution to the sport I love.

This piece was my racing biography submitted to the Thoroughbred Racing in New York (TRNY) group run by Ernie Munick on Facebook.  The link to their site is http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=8466519122#!/topic.php?uid=8466519122&topic=19510

4 comments:

Ciarán said...

nice one Brian! it is really cool that ur launching the mag on the anniversary of RA's demolition job at CD... and that hopefully she'll do another one on the launch day! best of luck with it! and start shamelessly posting the link of the mag everywhere!!

Brian Zipse said...

Thanks Ciaran...spread the word!

LDP said...

Great biography, I will check it out on FB for sure when I get home. Still can't wait for the magazine to debut, I'm expecting some great things! Nice job Brian.

LDP said...

Great biography, I will check it out on FB for sure when I get home. Still can't wait for the magazine to debut, I'm expecting some great things! Nice job Brian.