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Canadian owner Charles Fipke running two horses in Kentucky Derby

05/02/2013 05:29 EDT | Updated 07/02/2013 05:12 EDT
He's captured the Queen's Plate and been victorious at the Breeders' Cup. But Charles Fipke's ultimate thrill in horse racing would be celebrating in the winner's circle at the US$2-million Kentucky Derby.

On Saturday, the 66-year-old geologist will send two horses postward in the 139th Run for The Roses at Churchill Downs.

"It's the most prestigious race in North America so it's got to be on your radar," Fipke said. "It was great to win the Queen's Plate but it's much more challenging to win the Kentucky Derby because you're dealing with horses from North America, not just Canadian breds.

"It's really hard to just get a horse into that race.''

Golden Soul, a three-year-old colt that got into the Derby with the defection of two horses earlier this week, will break from post No. 4 as an early 50-1 longshot. Fipke's other horse, Java's War, will go from the No. 19 hole in the 20-horse field at early 15-1 odds.

Orb, the 7-2 favourite, drew the post No. 16 while unbeaten Verrazano, the 4-1 second choice, will start from the No. 14 spot.

Fipke, an Edmonton native, graduated in 1970 from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Science (honours) geology degree. In 1991, Fipke discovered the existence of diamonds in the Northwest Territories that led to the establishment of the Ekati Mine in 1998.

Fipke owns a 10 per cent share of the mine, which accounts for four per cent of the world's diamond production. In 2006, he donated $6 million UBC to support the creation of a centre for innovative research.

Fipke bought his first thoroughbred in 1981 and in 2008 won the Queen's Plate with Not Bourbon and Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield. Three years later, Fipke's Perfect Shirl claimed the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill Downs as a stunning 27-1 longshot with Attfield as the conditioner.

Fipke has run a horse in the Kentucky Derby before. In 2008, Tale of Ekati — named after his famous mine — finished fourth but taught Fipke a valuable lesson.

"I was very disappointed and since then I try not to get too into my own horse," he said. "For every race you win, you lose a lot more and as soon as you start to get too confident you get cut right down to size and get really humbled.''

Fipke said the key to success in both geology and horse-racing remains the same: Patience.

"I've been in horse racing over 30 years," he said. "And when it takes more than 25 years to get a horse like Tale of Ekati, it shows that if you are persistent you can achieve anything."

Fipke not only owns Golden Soul and Java's War but also bred both. Java's War earned his Derby berth with a stirring win at the Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 13. After a slow start, Java's War made a bold, seven-wide move on the far turn and caught the leaders in the final strides.

But that was just three weeks ago, which Fipke said could be a concern heading into the Derby.

"You always worry about a horse bouncing, but he's going very well right now," Fipke said. "He's training really aggressively and is really keen.''

While Java's War heads into the Derby on a winning note, he struggled in his only other start at Churchill Downs. Java's War finished a distant sixth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November.

Java's War has finished in the money in six-of-seven career starts (one win, three times second, twice third). But Fipke says there are some striking similarities between Java's War and Northern Dancer, the legendary Canadian-bred that won both the Derby and Preakness in '64 before finishing third in the Belmont, the final jewel of U.S. thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown.

"Java's War is just a little horse but so was Northern Dancer," Fipke said. "And I just found out the other day Northern Dancer won the Bluegrass Stakes and three weeks later won the Kentucky Derby so . . .

"(Java's War) really goes over the ground really nicely, you couldn't ask for better so that's one thing about him. And he has quite the kick. Most horses really go full blast for a quarter-mile but he really seems to have a longer kick."

However, Fipke said winning the Derby with Golden Soul would be especially gratifying because he also raced Perfect Soul, Golden Soul's father. Perfect Soul won the Grade I Keeneland Turf Mile and Grade II Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland in 2003, both in record time, en route to being named Canada's champion male turf horse.

Golden Soul has a win and two second-place finishes in five career starts. The horse competed in all three Derby prep races in New Orleans, running second in the LeComte, sixth in the Risen Star and fourth in the Louisiana Derby.

"This is Perfect Soul's first Kentucky Derby contender so if he won it would be something else," Fipke said. "Java's War is bred to go a mile and a quarter whereas Golden Soul is bred for a mile and a half.

"He's fresh and hasn't raced for five or six weeks so he could be a surprise."

Of course, with such a large field the Derby winner will undoubtedly need a little racing luck in order to emerge victorious.

"I'm not sure the best horse always wins," Fipke said. "You can get boxed in so you have to be a bit lucky at the Derby.

"You always dream about winning races but I find it tends to happen when you don't expect it to."

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