09/21/2004 11:00PM

Zippy Chippy in a class of his own


PHILADELPHIA - As we in close on the election and the Breeders' Cup, there are at least three unanswerable questions: 1. Why are we in Iraq? 2. Why can't Bobby Frankel win at the Breeders' Cup? 3. Why would anyone bet on Zippy Chippy?

I will leave Iraq and Frankel for brighter minds than mine. When Zippy Chippy lost a race for the 100th consecutive time Sept. 10 at Northampton, he was 7-2 in an eight-horse field. Can someone explain that?

It probably wasn't because of recent form. Or past form. The 13-year-old Zippy had been off for nearly a year before running seventh, beaten 31 3/4 lengths on Sept. 4. He was 5-1 in that start.

Perhaps, the bettors thought he needed the race. What about the other 98?

If you can get beyond the absurdity of it all, Zippy really is quite an amazing horse. Four years ago, I undertook a Beyer Speed Figure study of his remarkable career. That was after a mere 88 races.

The picture is no prettier. Zippy's best dirt Beyer is 48. That was earned in his second career start, on Sept. 23, 1994, at Belmont Park.

His career best Beyer (61) was in an Oct. 6, 1994, grass race, also at Belmont. Alas, he finished nearly 50 lengths behind in his next two grass races and never tried the turf again.

In a different barn, you wonder if Zippy could not have been different. Really, you have to think Frankel could have found a way to maximize Zippy's obvious potential.

Zippy had three different trainers in his first 20 starts. Two of them (Carl Domino and Ralph D'Alessandro) had him twice. What were they thinking?

More to the point, what is current owner-trainer Felix Monserrate thinking? He has had Zippy for his last 80 starts.

During that time, Zippy has been second and third eight times each. He lost two photos. His toughest beat had to be on Sept. 6, 2003, at Northampton (Mass.), when he held a six-length lead after the first two calls of a five-furlong race. And gave it up to finish second.

That may have been Zippy's last, best chance to win. In his two 2004 starts, he beat one horse.

Overall, Zippy is 0 for 70 on fast tracks and 0 for 27 on off tracks. He has raced five times at Belmont, four at Aqueduct, six at Suffolk Downs, three at Penn National, once at Thistledown, and 11 at Northampton. His legend, of course, was made at Finger Lakes where he raced 70 times, including 67 in a row at one point (May 1995 through September 1998).

You know how losing trainers love to say how their horse did not like the track. Perhaps, Zippy just has not found the right track yet. He might fit pretty well in that Montana fair circuit.

By my count, 34 different jockeys have ridden Zippy Chippy. So it can't be the jockey.

The Beyers do reveal that Zippy may have peaked. He had nine zeros in his first 88 races. He has had a zero in nine of his last 12 races. For those not familiar with the intricacies of the Beyers, zero is not good. It means the figure is somewhere between zero and minus numbers heading toward infinity. There are not many races won at any tracks with zeros.

So what is next for Zippy?

My suggestion would be retirement. Were he not a gelding, there is little question this New York-bred grandson of Northern Dancer would command a Smarty Jones-like stud fee after a bidding war among Coolmore, Lane's End, and Three Chimneys.

Since Funny Cide, New York-bred geldings have attained a certain cachet. Funny Cide won the Derby and Preakness, a wonderful achievement.

Really, though, which is the loftier achievement?

The same horse has won the Derby and Preakness in six of the last eight years. But Zippy's career is unprecedented.

How many horses could race with such distinction for 10 years? How many horses could lose 100 straight races?

It takes a certain ability to have no ability. And, regardless of how or where his career ends, there is little argument that no horse has ever done less with less than the immortal Zippy Chippy.