By Ken Weingartner, USTA — Gary Messenger describes Chip Chip Conway as “one tough little horse,” and it is easy to understand why.
After being sidelined five months because of emergency intestinal surgery in 2022, the then 6-year-old male trotter returned to action in mid-October of that year at Monticello Raceway and won the Open. He closed out that season by hitting the board six more times in eight starts, winning three.
But that was just a warmup for 2023. Last year, Chip Chip Conway posted 14 victories to finish tied for the most wins among all older trotters in North America. In fact, only 3-year-old Goomster had more, with 16.
As a result, Chip Chip Conway was named Monticello’s Trotter of the Year for the second time in his career. He captured his first title in 2021.
“He’s just the star of the stable,” said Messenger, who bred and owns Chip Chip Conway with Ken Weckstein, in addition to training the gelding. “Everybody loves him.”
What’s not to love? Chip Chip Conway, an 8-year-old son of Conway Hall-Get Chipped, has won 43 of 149 career races and earned $340,431. A winner in the New York Sire Stakes series as a 2-year-old, he has collected a paycheck 121 times.
“He tries a hundred percent every week,” Messenger said. “He’s one tough little horse. He had surgery two years ago and he’s got a little hitch to him, but knock on wood, he doesn’t go off stride; he stays at it. He just keeps trying.”
Messenger trained Chip Chip Conway’s mother, Get Chipped, who was purchased by Weckstein and a partner as a 3-year-old. Messenger became a co-owner three years later. The mare finished her seven-year racing career with 27 wins and $415,424 in purses.
Chip Chip Conway was Get Chipped’s first foal.
“She was a real nice mare,” Messenger said. “She got an infection in her foot. We turned her out and bred her.”
Messenger and Weckstein were honored with the Cradle of the Trotter Breeders Award by the Monticello-Goshen chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association at its annual awards banquet in December. In addition to Chip Chip Conway, the two enjoyed success with homebred 2-year-old male pacer Spectacular Plus, who won four preliminary rounds of the NYSS Excelsior Series and finished second in the final.
“It’s a very nice award,” Messenger said. “We don’t breed a whole lot, so to get that award was very unexpected.”
Messenger, a native of Monticello, got started in harness racing in the early 1970s, working with Clint Galbraith, before starting his own stable in 1976. Over the years, he has been a leading driver and trainer at the Mighty M.
“Nobody in my family ever worked with horses,” he said. “When I got out of high school, I met a guy that had a couple horses, and he took me to the track. I helped him a little bit with his horses; that’s pretty much how I got started.
“I’m going to be 70 this year and I still get up every morning and feed the horses. Everybody tells me to retire, but I don’t want to retire. What am I going to do? I just love the animals and I love the business.”
Chip Chip Conway will make his fourth start of this year on Wednesday at Monticello. He is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the Open, leaving from post six with driver Jim Taggart Jr. in a field of six. He is heading into the race off a win in the Open on Jan. 31, which followed a third and a second in the same class earlier in the month.
“He’s been racing pretty solid,” Messenger said. “He’s not maybe as sharp as he could be, but he’s been racing good. He’s doing well. He won last week. He’s always assigned the outside, so it’s tough for him.”
As for the horse’s future, it is pretty simple.
“We’ll just keep racing him,” Messenger said. “When he retires, I’ll retire him here at my farm. He’ll be here for as long as I’m here.”