By William Thomas
I have written a book about a thoroughbred racehorse which will likely be published … given the speed at which the Canadian publishing industry is moving these days … posthumously. When Random House first agreed to publish the book with a release date of 2015, my first thought was “No, that’s way too far down the line.” Zippy Chippy is 24 years old and not getting any younger. “We gotta get this book out,” I told my editor, “before the horse dies!”
Then they pushed the release date of the book to the spring of 2016 and I thought, “No, that’ll never work.”
“We gotta get this book out,” I told my editor, “before I die!” I’m Zippy’s age in human years and my best days of running around in circles are behind me as well.
As a thoroughbred who raced for 10 years in a sport where the average racehorse retires after five, Zippy Chippy always responded well to the bugler’s ‘call to post’ but then once the race began, he seemed to dance to the beat of his own drummer.
In his first 20 races at top-class tacks like Belmont Park and Aqueduct, Zippy Chippy lost on dirt and grass and muddy tracks, under skies that were clear, cloudy, sunny and rainy. The horse had failed to win with three different Davids in the saddle, two Joses, a Gerry, a Richard, a Mike, a Julio, a Jorge, a Carlos, a Leslie, as well as a Robbie and a Bobbie. He lost going outside on Inside News and on another occasion he managed to slip away from Eileen’s Embrace. Then he got beat by an Angry Cop. He earned two thumbs down for finishing behind Two Chums Up and he lost to Nine Years though Zippy himself was only four. In all those trips to the track the officials’ footnotes described him as “baring out,” “swinging wide,” “drawing off,” “showing little,” “fading fast,” “weakening” and at best making a “mild bid between foes” to come in third. Zippy Chippy was described as “failing to menace” a horse named Shadow Lark, ridden by a guy named Dennis!
In one race on a hot July afternoon at Finger Lakes, Zippy even managed to lose a race with Jesus in the saddle. That’s when his owner sold him. Well, he didn’t so much as sell him as give him away. Actually he didn’t quite give him away per se, he bartered for him. After 20 not-so-hot starts, Zippy was traded for a 1988 beat up Ford van with 188,000 miles on the odometer. This both defines and serves as the best example of the age-old practice of “horse trading.”
Due to the difficulty of evaluating the merits of an equine animal, be it a plough horse or a thoroughbred, the idea of horse trading has always been a little dicey. Hence, all such tainted deals — from used car swaps to vote mongering — have come to be called horse trading.
No other milieu generates better or stranger horse trades than the world of sports. In 1989, the Reno Silver Fox, a minor league baseball club, traded Tom Fortugno to the Milwaukee Brewers for $2,500 and a bag of baseballs. The Calgary Vipers once traded pitcher John Odon to the Laredo Broncos for a bag of bats. (But really good maple bats known as Prairie Sticks.) The Pacific Suns once traded Ken Krahenbuhl to the Greensville Bluesmen for 10 pounds of cat fish. Not amused, Krahenbuhl went to the mound a week later and pitched a perfect game.
Eddie Shore, the wily owner of the Springfield Indians American League hockey franchise prided himself in always screwing the other guy in trades. In one deal, the owner of a Pacific coast franchise could not wait to hear Shore rant and rave at receiving a player who was about to arrive at his office with his arm broken and in a sling. He was not so anxious to hear from Shore when the player coming his way in the trade walked into his west coast office with his leg broken and in a cast.
In what many sports fans consider the worst trade ever, Boston Red Sox owner and theatrical producer Harry Frazee sent the great Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for … a musical?!? Although Frazee said little at the time, it is believed he took cash from the Yankees in order to stage the Broadway play “No, No, Nanette.” Enough to make a dark horse blush, this trade precipitated “The Curse Of The Bambino” which superstitiously kept the Red Sox from winning a World Series for 86 consecutive years after the 1918 deal was sealed.
What might be the strangest trade in sports history took place at the 1973 New York Yankees spring training camp in Florida, in which players Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich swapped spouses, kids, cars and houses. Yeah, they traded lives with wives and everything else, including two kitchen sinks. Only spouses Susanne and Marilyn know for sure who got the best performer in that deal.
But Babe Ruth traded for a girly play? And Zippy Chippy exchanged for an ‘88 Ford van that was already seven years old? Wouldn’t you love to see the beady-eyed accountant at the IRS trying to figure out who made something taxable in these horse trades?!?
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