We are saddened by the passing of two of Old Friends’ most senior residents, Zippy Chippy at OF at Cabin Creek in New York, and River Squall at the main Kentucky farm. Zippy Chippy was 31. River Squall died on his 28th birthday.
Zippy Chippy was one of Old Friends’ biggest stars. Not because he was a great racehorse but because during his decade-long career he became the most notoriously bad racehorse of his time. In 100 starts he never won one single race. At first he was just another try-hard on the New York tracks. As a youngster he finished third twice at Belmont and seemed set to become an ordinary inexpensive claiming horse, those hard-working athletes who make up most of the game but seldom get much notice as individuals. But as he continued to try without ever, ever winning, people began to pay attention. People like an underdog who keeps trying, and Zippy Chippy was the ultimate hard worker as well as the ultimate underdog. Few horses stay on the track for ten years, and fewer still run a grueling 100 races. Zippy Chippy was a tough customer, made of sterner stuff than just about any horse in the game.
If Seabiscuit, the gritty underdog who succeeded, was the perfect hero for the 1930s, Zippy Chippy, the survivor who got taken down time after time but always got up and kept trying, was a fitting hero for our times. As his motto says, “Winners don’t always finish first.”
Because finally, Zippy was a winner. In retirement he became Old Friends at Cabin Creek’s most beloved character. Two books were written about him, one even available in German! He found his best buddy ever, Red Down South (when Zippy spent one summer at the Georgetown farm Red came with him). He got to boss around Joann and the other folks at Cabin Creek to his heart’s content. As Joann said, “He taught me so much about life, and I’ll miss him forever.”
River Squall wasn’t famous, but he was a seriously good racehorse, winner of the 1997 Saranac Stakes (G3) and Hawthorne Derby (G3). And for the barn staff and tour guides, he was a much-loved presence in his stall or his turnout area that he could use at will through the back door of his stall. He had this arrangement because a condition that inhibited his ability to sweat made it part of his wellbeing to always have access to shelter and cool whenever he wanted it.
This is why I couldn’t make a “Remembering” slide show video for him. Because he was indoors much of the time there aren’t a lot of photos of him. He did spend plenty of time in his outside run, but that tended to be in early mornings and in the evening. However! If you visited Old Friends in Kentucky at any time from 2018 on, I can almost guarantee you met River Squall and remember him. He was the dark bay stallion who never let a tour go through the barn without banging, making a ruckus for attention and carrots, and always demanding even more. River Squall was sort of tough, but he loved attention and admiration.
One person who will always remember River with especial love is former staff member John Bradley. And River was fond of John, who often wet him down when he was hot—being wet was River’s favorite thing ever—and played tongue-pulling games with him. Some horses really get into tongue-pulling. John recalled how whenever he’d walk by River’s stall, the stallion would stick out his tongue at him. Though River started out his retirement a toughie, he decided he liked us and mellowed into one of the most loved characters on the farm. That barn just doesn’t seem the same without our River Squall.