For Chuck Fipke, Saturday could have gone better. His Lady Speightspeare (Speightstown) finished fourth in the GI Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational S. and with a better trip might have been closer.
“That’s the way horse racing is,” the owner and breeder said. “I was kind of disappointed. For every time you do well in this sport, it seems that you are disappointed 50 times.”
Not that Fipke was complaining. With his having nearly died just 15 days before the race, it’s easy to keep things in perspective.
On Jan. 13, Fipke was in Costa Rica where he was taking pictures of birds. He had forgotten to bring his glasses and was having trouble seeing. That led him to getting lost and he took a wrong turn and found himself in the thick of the jungle. It was there that he was attacked by a swarm of wasps.
“I was making my way through the jungle and I ran into the wasps,” he said. “They literally swarmed all over my body. I was bitten well over 2,000 times.”
From there, it was just a matter of whether or not he would live. Fipke said he passed out after the attack but he woke up in time to call out and was found by a young Costa Rican. With the assistance, he was taken to a four-wheel drive police vehicle and then transported to a small satellite hospital.
“I wasn’t doing very well but they managed to get me from the satellite hospital to a really good local hospital with really good doctors,” he said.
He had come that far, but there were no guarantees that he would make it.
“The doctor there didn’t think I would survive,” Fipke said. “He said he hadn’t heard of anyone who had ever survived an attack like this. There are 400 different types of wasps, but these were really bad wasps. I didn’t think I was going to make it. My fiance didn’t think I was going to make it and neither did the doctor. When you have some good horses like I do, you really don’t want to die. One the one hand, I was very unlucky that this happened to me. On the other hand, I lived. So I was lucky.”
To make matters worse, some wasps had burrowed their way inside his eardrum, threatening his hearing. Fipke underwent a successful surgery to remove the wasps from his ear and his hearing was saved.
In time, and though he said the itching was unbearable, Fipke started to improve. On Jan. 20, he returned to a hospital in his native British Columbia, Canada and a few days later was released. He said he’s now about 70% recovered. But he never considered traveling to Gulfstream.
“There was no way I could travel,” Fipke said. “It wasn’t until the last few days that I started to improve and then I improved quite a bit.”
The wasp attack was not the first time Fipke has been seriously ill. He said he had previously suffered from a case of cerebral malaria, also a life-threatening illness.
“I wasn’t supposed to survive the case of cerebral malaria, but I did,” Fipke said. “I’ve used up two of my nine lives. Seven to go.”
Lady Speightspeare has been one of top runners in the Fipke barn over the last few years. She won the GI Natalma S. in 2020, the same year she was named Canada’s champion 2-year-old filly. In what may have been the best race of her career, she finished third in this year’s GI Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. A five-time stakes winner, she earned $457,420.
The Pegasus was her last race and she will now be bred to Gun Runner. It will be a while before that foal makes it to the races, but Fipke should be around to watch its career unfold. He is a lucky man.