Thursday, May 2, 2013

Fipke hoping to unearth a Derby gem

When 20 horses spring from the gate in Saturday's Grade 1, $2-million Kentucky Derby, two of the jockeys will proudly sport the white, yellow and blue silks of Edmonton, Alberta born owner-breeder Charles Fipke.

Java's War, winner of the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, will be amongst the top choices in the 1 1/-4-mile test, under rider Julien Leparoux.
Perfect Soul will be represented at the Derby by Golden Soul

His other starter, Golden Soul, a son of Fipke's stallion Perfect Soul, will be ridden by Robby Albarado. After failing to win a trio of Derby preps at the Fair Grounds in Louisiana, Golden Soul only backed into the Derby thanks to a pair of defections from horses above him in the points standings used to determine a position in the starting gate.

Despite their radically different paths to the First Saturday In May, one can draw a straight, bold line from both horses back to Fipke as the man who engineered their destiny.

And yet Fipke, who graduated with a Bachelor of Sciences in honors geology in 1970 from the University of British Columbia and was later awarded an honorary Ph.D. in Technology from the UBC Okanagan, is humble in his considerable success both in business and with horses.

"You don't want to get too excited about these horses. As soon as you get too excited, you get cut right down to size," laughs Fipke, whose lone trip to the Kentucky Derby, in 2008, resulted in a fourth-place finish for Tale of Ekati.

"There's a lot more times you lose, than you win," he admits.

Golden Soul, a chestnut son of Perfect Soul out of Hollywood Gold, finished second, sixth and fourth respectively in the Grade 3 Lecomte and Grade 2 Risen Star and Louisiana Derby, in races marred by wide trips and too-late rallies.

It's the fourth time Fipke experimented with this particular mating (of Perfect Soul with Hollywood Gold) after full siblings Hollywood Soul, Soul of Gold and Soul of Hollywood, didn't quite pan out as expected.

"It's a good mating. It if wasn't a good mating, I wouldn't go back all the time," explains Fipke. "We've got this method where we measure distance aptitudes. The mating for Golden Soul, according to our calculations, has the stamina in him to go about 12 furlongs. So, a mile and a quarter (10 furlongs) should be no problem for him. He has natural stamina."

As a well-regarded geologist, Fipke, chairman of Metalex (a diamond exploration company) and Cantex (a gold prospecting company), is a leading figure in the discovery of diamonds and precious stones across North America.
Fipke's silks are familiar to Woodbine racing fans

His patience, both in geology and the world of thoroughbreds, has been well rewarded.

"Mating is not perfectly precise," says Fipke, by way of explaining his repeated attempts at creating a winner with Perfect Soul and Hollywood Gold.

Hollywood Gold, before being purchased by Fipke, did produce a Derby starter in Quintons Gold Rush who was 18th, and eased, in the 2004 edition of the Run For The Roses, won by Smarty Jones.

Fipke makes no apologies for his repeated efforts at making the mating work.

"When its good breeding, you stick with it," he says. "Of course, some of the others haven't done as well as Golden Soul."

Research is the key to Fipke's success in all his business ventures, equine or otherwise.

"I do a lot of mineral research and probes and we've developed a lot of unique methods for looking for diamonds," says Fipke. "We're on the leading edge of that and most of the best diamond geologists in the world will visit me and study my methods.  A lot of unique technology has gone into it and that type of
research has paid off in horse breeding too."

Java's War, the more accomplished of his two Derby entrants, finished a closing second to possible Derby favourite Verrazano in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby back in March, before his Blue Grass score.

Java's War, a bay son of War Pass out of Java, found a different route to Fipke's stable as the diamond magnate purchased Java, the mare of Java's War, in foal with the eventual Derby dreamer for $350,000 at Keeneland's November sale, in 2009.

War Pass, undefeated as a two-year-old en route to a win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, resonates on many levels with Fipke.

"We used to race against War Pass with Tale of Ekati and War Pass cleaned our clock every time we went against him as a two-year-old," he laughs. "However, Tale of Ekati eventually beat War Pass in the Wood Memorial on the road to the Kentucky Derby."

Of course, more than nostalgia went into the purchase of Java and her yet-to-be-born foal.

Fipke was curious, indeed, about the potential of Java’s War’s damsire (1985 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner, Rainbow Quest), and, more importantly, he was excited at how that family matched up with another young stallion he is working to promote.

"War Pass, was early maturing, and an American champion at two," starts Fipke. "And when you look at him mated to a Rainbow Quest mare (Java), which is late maturing, you think you just might get it right.  But, before buying the mare, there were a couple things we analyzed about the mare.  There are literally thousands of mares sold and you have to pick the best one for you."

Fipke believes that Java's family lines compliment Not Bourbon, his Queen's Plate winner of 2008, who stands at Norse Ridge, just north of Toronto. Not Bourbon became trainer Roger Attfield's eight Queen's Plate champion, and Fipke's first, when he held off Woodbine Oaks champ, Ginger Brew, to win the
guineas by a head.

"It was a very good mating to duplicate the bottom lines of Not Bourbon to the bottom lines of Java, so it fit well with my own stallion and it also fit very well with War Pass," says Fipke. "So, the reason I wanted to buy her is that I thought I had a chance at a good horse in utero and also in combination later with one of my own stallions. I get a double whammy!"

On Saturday, Java's War will try to race his way into the history books in the Kentucky Derby.  Fipke, mindful of that potential brilliance, is already planning ahead for another potential classic attempt in Canada.

"I have a Canadian-bred Not Bourbon (out of Java), who is one of the best yearlings I own," he says of the yet-to-be-named colt, a half-brother to a potential Kentucky Derby winner.

Breeding great horses, particularly colts, which have tremendous value as stallions after their racing career, is paramount to Fipke's continued success.

Perfect Soul, who stands for a $7,000 stud fee at Darby Dan Farm in Kentucky, is a perfect example of a racehorse earning his keep after a stellar racing career that included wins in the Grade 2 Breeders' Cup Handicap at Woodbine and Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile, at Keeneland, en route to being named Canada's
Champion Male Turf Horse for 2003.

Perfect Soul, a Fipke homebred son of Sadler's Wells, took the Grade 2 Makers Mark Mile at Keeneland as a four-year-old setting a course record in the process. He now stands at Darby Dan along with fellow Fipke stallions, Tale of Ekati and Jersey Town.

"The only way you can recover your losses is by getting good stallions," says Fipke. "If you get a stallion that produces a lot of Group 1 winners, then the stud fees go up and you can make a lot of money. I'm hoping I can recuperate some of my losses and maybe one of these two horses in the Derby will be my real pot of gold."

But Fipke is not getting too far in front of himself, on the eve of the Derby.

"I'm not counting on winning. The competition is fierce," says Fipke. "Orb has the stamina to do it and he's a wonderful horse.  There are a lot of wonderful horses in the race. You can get high on your own horses, but you have to be realistic. I was in the Derby once before with Tale of Ekati and came fourth. I was quite disappointed at that time. And this time I don't want to be disappointed. I just want to do the best we can."

Fipke is hopeful that Golden Soul, who closed to be fourth to Revolutionary from 18 lengths off the pace on March 30th in the Louisiana Derby, might be ready to step forward.

"Golden Soul is a very good horse. He hasn't raced for five or six weeks and he's really in good shape now," offers Fipke. "He's by Perfect Soul, whose offspring are a little later maturing. So, he's just starting to peak right now. Hopefully he'll peak at the Derby. He might surprise everybody."

And Fipke is realistic about the chances of Grade 1 winner Java's War, Kentucky-bred but Canadian-owned, in a field full of graded stakes winners.

"I hope Java's War doesn't bounce as it's only been three weeks since he won the Blue Grass," says Fipke.
Is another Churchill Downs upset in the cards for Fipke?

As storm clouds threaten to rumble Saturday's Derby, it's hard not to be reminded of Fipke's coup de grace at the 2011 Breeders' Cup with another offspring of Perfect Soul - - champion turf filly, Perfect Shirl.

Sent to post at odds of 27-1 in the Grade 1 $2-million Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, Perfect Shirl saved ground in the early going of the 1 3/-8-mile turf test under John Velazquez, before tipping out late in the stretch to launch a winning five-wide rally to score by three-quarters of a length over Nahrain.

A nose, and two heads separated the second to fifth place finishers in what was a thrilling finish.

And yet, Perfect Shirl, trained by the Woodbine-based Attfield, almost didn't make the race.

"It had rained a day or so before the race and we didn't think our horse liked a soft turf. So, Roger went around the course that morning and said, 'It's not really hard, but it's not really soft either. It's moderate. We've come this far, we might as well go in'," recalls Fipke. "So we did, not thinking we'd succeed, but we won."

Fipke, an animated sort, rushed to find Perfect Shirl in the winner's enclosure following the race and planted a kiss on the filly's two-million dollar nose.

"I was in a daze, it was so wonderful. It was like being in heaven," he recalls. "They're wonderful animals and you admire that they put out such effort. And to win a world championship was something else."

The weatherman is calling for a 40 per cent chance of rain in Louisville on Saturday, but regardless of the condition of the track, Golden Soul will leave the starting gate at odds greater than that of Perfect Shirl in her Breeders' Cup win.

Fipke, who has been down this road many times before, remains undaunted by the challenge, "It's when you least expect it that it happens."

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