Seeking the Soul figures to be a price at the betting windows when the Grade 1-winning 6-year-old horse competes in Gulfstream Park's $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1). But owner-breeder Charles “Chuck” Fipke has made a career out of long shots. Actually two careers.
Fipke, who grew up dirt poor in British Columbia in Western Canada, became a multi-millionaire by literally finding diamonds in the rough throughout the world as a geologist and prospector. For the past quarter-century, he has done the same in racing and breeding thoroughbreds.
Seeking the Soul — winner of Churchill Downs' Clark Handicap (G1) in 2017, most recently second in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) and fifth in last year's Pegasus — is a good example. He is a son of Perfect Soul, the Fipke homebred who gave the breeder his first American Grade 1 triumph in the 2003 Shadwell Keeneland Turf Mile in a still-standing course record 1:33.54. Perfect Soul sired Fipke's first Breeders' Cup winner in Perfect Shirl, the 2011 Filly & Mare Turf heroine at 27-1 odds, and Golden Soul, second in the 2013 Kentucky Derby (G1) at 34-1.
For Fipke, the thrill is pursuit as much as payoff.
“I do a lot of research to improve the techniques I use to find mines, and I do the same with horses,” said Fipke, 72. “Pretty well most of my good horses have been by stallions I bred. It's nice to challenge yourself. You can go to these sales, and if you're lucky you can pick out a really good horse and win a Group 1 race. But it's harder to breed them yourself. It's more challenging, I think.”
Fipke and his partner in 1991 discovered the deposit that became Canada's first diamond mine, the Ekati Diamond Mine. That's the source of the name of his homebred Grade 1 winner Tale of Ekati, who went on to sire Brad Grady's Grade 1-winner Girvin and Fipke's 2015 Preakness Stakes (G1) runner-up at 28-1, Tale of Verve.
Sid Fernando, a Fipke bloodstock advisor who is president of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, calls his client “an anomaly as an owner-breeder.”
“Most people are really breeding to sell,” he said. “He does his own matings and he's got his own ideology…. As a geologist, he's always searching, going through soil samples, analyzing them to try to find the diamond mine, the big motherlode. Some of that he does in a way with horses. He's sifting through samples to hit that motherlode.”
Fipke owns about 80 mares and 60 racehorses. He paid $180,000 at Keeneland's 1994 November sale for Perfect Soul's dam, Secretariat's winless but well-bred daughter Ball Chairman. His cost was $1.7 million in 2006 for the unraced 3-year-old Title Seeker, second dam of Seeking the Soul and a daughter of the legendary racehorse and broodmare Personal Ensign. The next year he went to $2.5 million to land Lemons Forever, the 2006 Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner at a record 47-1 odds and who produced Fipke's 2017 champion and Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) winner Forever Unbridled and Grade 1 winner Unbridled Forever.
When his breeding theories dictate, Fipke will go to outside stallions. Such as when he mated Lemons Forever with the commercially popular Unbridled's Song ($100,000 stud fee at the time) after twice breeding her to Perfect Soul. But he had no trepidation about breeding his Iowa Oaks winner Seeking the Title, the Seeking the Gold filly that Title Seeker was carrying at the time of her purchase, to Perfect Soul, who currently stands for $5,000.
“Perfect Soul had an older, unraced full brother by Sadler's Wells,” Fernando said. “Mr. Fipke supported that unraced stallion and got a Queen's Plate winner, Not Bourbon, and several other stakes-winners. That's where he gets his greatest pleasure. He had a very big offer from Japan for Bee Jersey, a ton of money on the table for a Met Mile (G1) winner and son of his homebred Jersey Town. Yet, he kept the horse instead of selling it and he's standing him for $5,000 at Darby Dan, a fee he chose to make the horse accessible to breeders but that he'll be supporting as well. That's really his pattern…. Sometimes it's not a monetary thing wholly for him.”
Dallas Stewart, trainer of Seeking the Soul, met Fipke when he thanked the geologist for buying Lemons Forever, whom Stewart trained and co-owned. Stewart also trained Forever Unbridled and Unbridled Forever, as well as Golden Soul and Tale of Verve. He says Fipke “puts his heart and soul and money into the game.”
Indeed, Fipke said, in addition to further stamping Seeking the Soul as a future stallion, the Pegasus' $4 million winner's payday would be welcome.
“The only possible way I could ever break even would be to have a good stallion, like a Storm Cat,” he said. “… Sure I've won the Breeders' Cup Distaff and various races. But I lose millions every year on horses. To be quite honest, it would be nice to win the Pegasus purse. It would be great for one year to be in the black. That would be a huge achievement. I'd be so happy. It would be like winning the $100 million lottery.”
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