Taking Stock: The Uniqueness of Fipke

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Chuck Fipke | Sarah Andrew

By Sid Fernando

Niki McCardell was tense as Justify (Scat Daddy) rolled into the Belmont stretch, and with each stride the big chestnut took to secure his place in history, McCardell’s pent-up excitement became noticeably palpable. She started clenching her fists and raising her arms at the sixteenth pole and finally emptied her emotional tank when the colt hit the wire. Shortly afterward, I heard McCardell almost sheepishly tell her companion Chuck Fipke that witnessing Justify’s GI Belmont S. was as exciting–if not more–as seeing Fipke’s homebred Bee Jersey (Jersey Town)’s win the GI Metropolitan H. two races earlier on the card.

“No, I agree with you,” Fipke replied. “It was more exciting to see this. He just won the Triple Crown, eh.”

Mind you, Bee Jersey’s race had been a nailbiter with the son of Jersey Town’s margin of victory only a nose at the wire, but Fipke had meant what he’d said because he breeds mostly for the Classics and had appreciated–envied, even–what had transpired.

“He’s a beautiful horse,” Fipke uttered to no one as he watched Mike Smith parade the colt before fans after the win.

The big and handsome Justify is owned by a partnership that numbers hundreds of individuals. This type of ownership structure–popular overseas–is becoming more evident here. The colt was initially purchased by the partnership of Kenny Troutt’s WinStar Farm; China Horse Club; and SF Bloodstock, a global entity that includes Newgate Farm in Australia; and it was later enlarged to include the Jack Wolf-led syndicate of Starlight Racing and Sol Kumin’s Head of Plains Partners LLC. The latter two entities had purchased SF Bloodstock’s racing interests in the son of Scat Daddy for one year, with SF holding on to its share of the colt’s breeding rights. It’s a fairly complex ownership situation between the racing and breeding rights, but it certainly amplifies the number of individuals that can say they owned a Triple Crown winner.

Fipke, in contrast, is at the other end of the spectrum in the deep end of the game. He’s an owner who races almost exclusively only those horses that he bred, and he races them by himself, in his name, and in his own colors. He doesn’t buy yearlings or 2-year-olds, he doesn’t claim horses, and he doesn’t have partners. In many ways, he’s a throwback to the owner-breeders of the last century, and his model of operation is very much in the minority these days. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that there’s no one else in North America that operates quite like Fipke does, because not only does he race homebreds, he breeds the majority of his mares to his own homebred stallions, even if those stallions are not fashionable or supremely accomplished at stud. Bee Jersey is an example of this. He’s a first-crop son of Fipke’s homebred GI Cigar Mile winner Jersey Town (Speightstown), who entered stud at Darby Dan but was moved to Road’s End Farm in British Columbia for 2018 after demand in Kentucky waned.

As an owner-breeder, Fipke is not motivated by commercial concerns, and that makes him unique, too. He plans his own matings meticulously–I know this firsthand as an advisor to him through Werk Throroughbred Consultants–and will oftentimes breed even his most valuable mares to his own sires if he deems the matings sound. For example, after purchasing GI Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever (Lemon Drop Kid) for $2.5 million as a maiden mare, he bred her to his homebred Grade I winner and champion Perfect Soul (Ire), a son of Sadler’s Wells that he bred and raced. He breeds for a purpose, too, and that mostly is to breed future stallions or broodmares that he can then mate with his other homebreds or with stallions that fit his breeding theories. In other words, he envisions matings two or three generations downstream, and that also marks him as unique nowadays where patience is no longer a virtue, or at least not kind to a bottom line that screams for immediate ROI.

He’s also found remarkable success doing things his own way. When he later bred Lemons Forever to Unbridled’s Song and got the dual Grade I winners Unbridled Forever and Forever Unbridled, he also got an Eclipse Award winner with the latter and earned a Broodmare of the Year award for the producer.

Another example of Fipke’s unique way of thinking is evident in the $1.7 million purchase of Title Seeker (Monarchos–Personal Ensign), bought in foal to Seeking the Gold in 2006. A mare of this caliber would usually go to a top commercial sire in anyone else’s hands. Fipke bred her to Perfect Soul, and later he bred the filly she was carrying at purchase, Grade III winner Seeking the Title, to Perfect Soul, too. The latter mating was responsible for his 2017 Grade I winner Seeking the Soul, a future stallion for Fipke.

Classic Quest

A Canadian, Fipke has had success in the Canadian Classics with Not Bourbon (Not Impossible {Ire}), Perfect Shower (Perfect Soul) and Danish Dynaformer (Dynaformer). Not Bourbon won the Queen’s Plate in 2008 and was sired by the unraced Sadler’s Wells stallion Not Impossible, a homebred brother to Perfect Soul that Fipke put to stud and almost singlehandedly supported himself. With Not Bourbon’s Queen’s Plate success, Not Impossible also became the first Sadler’s Wells stallion to get a North American Classic winner. Not Bourbon’s dam, by the way, was the millionaire and multiple Grade III winner Bourbon Belle, a $600,000 purchase that Fipke had no qualms about sending to an unraced stallion. There probably isn’t another breeder in North America that would do that.

Perfect Shower won the Breeders’ S., the third leg of Canada’s Triple Crown, in August of 2009. His sire became the third Sadler’s Wells-line stallion to get a North American Classic winner after Medaglia d’Oro (El Prado {Ire}, by Sadler’s Wells) became the second with Rachel Alexandra in the GI Preakness S. that year. Perfect Shower’s dam, Showering, was a $75,000 purchase.

Danish Dynaformer was second in the Queen’s Plate in 2015, but, like Perfect Shower, won the Breeders’ S., a mile-and-a-half race on turf. Fipke had targeted the stamina sire Dynaformer for his Danehill mare Danish Wildcat, whom he had purchased privately from her breeder, Irv Cowan, and Danish Dynaformer’s pedigree is marked by two cases of close and unusual inbreeding to Darby Dan sires Roberto (2×4) and His Majesty (3×4), something that didn’t dissuade Fipke from executing a somewhat daring mating.

Fipke has a penchant for particularly inbreeding to females in a family and understands full well that sometimes the more closely inbred filly foals may end up better broodmares down the road than racehorses. That’s the hope for his Galileo (Ire) mare Galileo Always, who is inbred 3×3 to Allegretta (GB), the dam of Urban Sea–Galileo’s dam. She wasn’t much on the racecourse but she’s currently in Japan and has a promising Deep Impact (Jpn) foal by her side, who is bred on the same cross as this year’s G1 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior (Jpn) (Deep Impact). Because the G1 Epsom Derby winner Masar (Ire) (New Approach {Ire}), a grandson of Galileo, is inbred 3×4 to Urban Sea, Fipke’s mating now looks doubly inspired.

Though Fipke’s profile harks back to the staid owner-breeders of the past, he’s obviously more daring than they were and very much in tune with the internationalism of today. He was actually ahead of the curve as one of the first breeders in North America to send mares to Sadler’s Wells, an outstanding sire of Classic horses. Through the years he’s also sent mares to other Classic sires abroad, horses like Galileo in Ireland, Fort Wood in South Africa, Redoute’s Choice in France and Australia, and Deep Impact in Japan, and he’s raced in Europe, Australia, UAE, and Japan, where he’s one of a handful of western owners licensed to race.

Currently Fipke stands at Darby Dan Grade I winner Tale of Ekati (Tale of the Cat), whom he also bred and raced, along with the aging Perfect Soul. The latter got him the runner-up spot in the 2013 GI Kentucky Derby with Golden Soul, and the former, who was fourth in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, got him a placing in the 2015 Preakness with Tale of Verve’s distant second to American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile). In addition to Jersey Town in Canada, Fipke also stands Not Bourbon, Grade I winner Java’s War (War Pass), and Grade I-placed Perfect Timber (Perfect Soul) in Ontario at Colebrook Farm, and he supports all of his stallions.

One of Fipke’s goals is to win the Kentucky Derby–and the Preakness and Belmont, for that matter. He’s won Breeders’ Cup races with Perfect Shirl (Perfect Soul) and Forever Unbridled, and he’s always hunting for Grade I races like the Metropolitan, which guaranteed Bee Jersey a spot on the Fipke stallion roster. But Fipke’s face after the Belmont S. told a story. He wants to get there, however, with a homebred, preferably one by a sire and dam that he also bred. That would be his signature mark on the game, and it’s why he’s inspired to spend time on his matings almost every day of the year.

Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.

 

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