Dinny Phipps: A great sportsman, admired racing leader
NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly three years ago, Ogden Mills Phipps sat in his high-backed leather chair in a board room at Bessemer Trust, smiling and delighted to talk about a dream come true: winning the Kentucky Derby with Orb.
“Sure, something would have been missing if we didn’t win, but we’ve had such a wonderful career in racing that it really wouldn’t have been something that was glaring,” Phipps said in a May 2013 interview with The Associated Press. “It does mean a great deal now that we have won it, but we have never tried to force our horses into that race and I just don’t think we need to do that.”
Phipps, simply “Dinny” to many, rarely forced the issue when it came to his horses. His Phipps Stable, with its famed cherry red and black silks, is known for allowing trainers, particularly Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, to make the racing calls.
Phipps, who had been in poor health for several years, died Wednesday night at a hospital in New York City. He was 75. He was fondly remembered by industry leaders as a great sportsman, horseman and voice of reason in trying to make racing a better, cleaner and safer sport.
A breeder, owner and longtime chairman of The Jockey Club, Phipps simply followed in the racing footprints of his rich and famous family.
He was the great-grandson of Henry Phipps, the partner of the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. He was the grandson of Henry Carnegie Phipps and Gladys Livingston Mills Phipps; and the son of Lillian Bostwick Phipps, who died in 1987, and Ogden Phipps, who died in 2002.
According to Forbes, the Phipps family is among the richest in the United States, with an estimated worth of $6.6 billion in 2015. Much of that wealth came in managing Bessemer Trust, the private bank and investment advising firm it established in 1907. Dinny Phipps was chairman of the board at Bessemer from 1976-94. He was chairman of Bessemer Securities Corp. from 1982-94, and served on both boards until he retired in 2015.
Phipps had an easy way about him. A stout man with a round face, he was a regular guy. He made visitors feel like guests of honor. McGaughey, a little-known trainer from Kentucky when Phipps hired him in 1985, said his boss also was a close friend. When he went on fishing or hunting trips with Phipps, it was Shug who had the first shot — on land or water.
“He put everyone ahead of himself,” McGaughey said. “He wanted you to be the first to catch the fish or shoot the bird.”
Phipps was chairman of the New York Racing Association from 1976-83. “He was a giant of a man, both in life and in the industry,” NYRA’s board of director’s vice chairman Michael J. Del Giudice said.
“There is no area of American racing that was not touched — and positively so — by Mr. Phipps and his influence,” Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery said.
A brief rundown of champions include Successor (2-year-old male champion, 1996); Rhythm (2-year-old male champion, 1989); Inside Information (older filly/mare champion, 1995); Storm Flag Flying (2-year-old filly champion, 2002); and Smuggler (3-year-old filly champion, 2005). Not to mention 1989 Belmont Stakes winner Easy Goer and, of course, Orb.
The Phipps philosophy leaned toward fillies. It makes pretty good business sense, at least the way Phipps explained it.
“They will all keep producing as long as we treat them well and put the right ones back into stud,” he said in the 2013 interview. ”... To go out in the marketplace today to buy colts and fillies — with a colt you’ve only got 25 to 30 of them in a crop that do well out of 20,000 to 25,000. They are not worth much if they are not in that 25 to 30. Whereas a filly, if she does decently she is in the position to help you for a long time. We believe the broodmare is the most important quality of the race horse.”
Phipps was always trying to make racing better. He spearheaded several attempts calling for a level playing field in the United States and for stiffer penalties for those who break the rules. Progress has been slow, but it’s gaining traction. Last year, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow the United States Anti-Doping Agency to create an independent group for oversight of medication regulation.
Phipps went to Yale, was an avid golfer and will be inducted into the International Court Tennis Hall of Fame in December. He won U.S. Open doubles championships four times from 1978-82.
For years, Phipps would spend summers in Saratoga Springs, New York. In the mornings, he’d drive his golf cart to his stable near the Spa’s Oklahoma training track, watch his horses and chit-chat with friends, workers and fans.
“Dinny Phipps was racing’s best friend,” fellow breeder, owner and philanthropist Marylou Whitney told the Palm Beach Post. “He was one of the biggest giants in the history of racing. All of us who love racing owe our gratitude and respect to Dinny for being our captain.”
Phipps Stable is moving forward.
“My father assembled and now has left a fantastic team in place. We have really, as a family, grown up with this team and have the utmost trust in them in all facets of the organization,” Phipps’ son, Ogden Phipps II, told the Thoroughbred Daily News. “We cannot imagine any better way to honor my dad than to keep our traditions going and always look to improve, as he did, to look to breed better horses, win more races and carry on the legacy we grew up with.”
Phipps didn’t always make the right calls. He won a fateful coin flip in 1969 with the Chenery family but made the wrong decision.
With the choice of selecting an already newborn foal or passing and waiting for the next foal, Phipps went with waiting. The newborn was a colt; the Phipps wanted a filly. The colt’s name? Secretariat.
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