Winning Isn't Anything

Lovable loser Zippy Chippy takes the lead.

Lloyd Ruby, too, might have to nod in silent acknowledgement of a 0-for-100 racehorse. After all, Monserrate acquired the horse in 1995 in exchange for something automotive: his beat-up Ford van.

"Say you have three children," the trainer explains. "One is a lawyer, doing well. The other a doctor, very, very successful. But the third one, not so smart, so he working at McDonald's. What do you do? Ignore him? Course not. He's the one who needs your help. That's Zippy."

Now that Zippy Chippy's on the verge of retirement, what are we to think? That a kind of perfection has been preserved? That failure has been elevated to sacrament? That something vital canters off into oblivion? Maybe all of the above.

He is the Tattaglia brothers messing with Sonny Corleone. He is the inventor of the eight-track stereo and the producer of Gigli.He is the Cubs, the Red Sox, "new" Coke and the 1997-98 Denver Nuggets (11-71, in case you've forgotten) all rolled into one. He is the fuzzless tennis ball. Compared to Zippy's travails, Napoleon's trip to Russia and the CIA's sleuthing in Saudi Arabia start to look pretty good. Given enough chances, the average Budweiser Clydesdale could win a claiming race at Finger Lakes. Not Zippy Chippy. He lost seventyraces at his owner's home track before the weary stewards ruled him off in the name of the public good.

After the horse's 100th failure, jockey Willie Belmonte told a bemused reporter from the Baltimore Sun: "I think he just got tired. I also think he's a smart horse. He knows he's going to get fed no matter what."

Exactly. In view of his failed striving, Zippy Chippy will remain a member of the Monserrate family forever. No glue factory for this lovable loser, no dog-food plant. "I don't want nothing to happen to him," Felix Monserrate affirms. "He will stay with me, he will never leave my side. I enjoy real good with him everywhere we go together. And what he means to people. He gave them enjoyment."

Like Susan Lucci gave enjoyment. Like the Jamaican bobsled team. Like...well, okay, maybe it's not the same kind of enjoyment Mike Hampton and Marcus Nash and Nick Van Exel gave to Denverites. In the end, consider John Bunyan, who never bought an exacta ticket, never saw the Zipster run and never had to sit there while the Rockies blew another six-run lead in the ninth. But the author of Pilgrim's Progress knew all about failure. "He that is down," Bunyan wrote in the seventeenth century, "need fear no fall."

Case in point: When we talked last week, Felix Monserrate was getting another one of the twelve horses in his barn, a five-year-old mare named Ava Marisa, ready to run in a modest allowance race at Finger Lakes. Little matter that Ava Marisa has won just four times in four years. Or that she's a bit sore-legged. Or that Monserrate bought her, back in 2001, for exactly $10. "Ava Marisa a pretty good one," the trainer said. "She have a good chance Saturday."

Ava Marisa ran second.

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