B.C. billionaire's big bet

ROB LONGLEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:07 AM ET

When you have the incredible good fortune to discover the biggest diamond mine in Canadian history, there isn't much in this world that is beyond your means.

Part geologist, part entrepreneur, part horse lover, British Columbia billionaire Charles Fipke has been rich beyond imagination since 1991 when he unearthed the famed Ekati mine in the Northwest Territories.

As you might expect, there have been some staggering numbers since. He once paid $2.7 million for a thoroughbred, and that was after a divorce settlement worth a Canadian record $123.1 million, adding new meaning to the cheeky "diamonds are a girl's best friend" line.

There are some things in life that money can't guarantee, however, and one of those is buying a horse capable of winning the Kentucky Derby.

Sheiks and oil magnates from the Middle East have tried without success, as have billionaires from every walk of North American life.

No one is suggesting Fipke would surrender the smallest percentage of his 10% stake in the wild Ekati venture in exchange for the garland of roses and $1.45 million US that goes to the Derby winner. But at least Fipke is in the race for the 134th running at Louisville's famed Churchill Downs this Saturday -- and with a live contender at that.

Fipke, whose friends call him Chuck, spent more than two decades searching for the diamonds his geological training convinced him were planted below the tundra of the far north. It has been a similar hunt for a world champion racehorse and he is now just days from finding out if he will strike it rich again.

"I've been in horse racing since 1981 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 said of the special colt he also bred.

Fipke is nothing if not dogged in pursuit of his goals. In his early days in racing, he was a little too anxious to find a diamond in the rough, eschewing proven pedigree for lesser-bred stock. Along the way he developed his own expertise in bloodlines, though, and eventually backed it with his bankroll.

"He's a very competitive person as you can tell by what he has done in life," says Woodbine trainer Roger Attfield who trains a dozen horses for Fipke (though not, as misfortune would have it, Tale of Ekati). "He has got goals he has set in his own mind and he wants to fulfill them. He really enjoys the game."

Those goals have become quite apparent in recent years as Fipke quietly has become a force in the thoroughbred game. The first big hit was with a turf star named Perfect Soul, who won $1.5 million under Attfield's expert guidance and a Sovereign Award as Canada's champion turf horse in 2003.

Once the hype of the U.S. Triple Crown dies down, he may have a shot at his domestic version with another Attfield trainee, Not Bourbon, who is a contender for the 2008 Queen's Plate.

Trained by New Yorker Barclay Tagg, Tale of Ekati already is a bargain for Fipke, who paid $525,000 US for Silver Beauty, a Japanese-bred mare who was in foal with the yet-to-be-born colt. He since has sold another colt out of the same mare and sired by Perfect Soul for $775,000 and Tale of Ekati has earned $738,000 by winning half of his six career starts.

The biggest of those came earlier this month in the Wood Memorial at New York's Aqueduct Racetrack, a victory, in that punched his ticket to Kentucky.

"Winning that race was like finding that first diamond," Fipke said of the Wood, a race that has produced multiple Derby winners including Funny Cide (also for Tagg), Monarchos and Fusaichi Pegasus this decade.

"It was that kind of excitement."

The next big step for Tale of Ekati comes early this morning at Churchill when the handsome bay colt is scheduled to have his final pre-Derby workout.

Tomorrow, Fipke will learn his horse's post position among the 20 three-year-olds gunning for the most prestigious prize in American racing.

"I'm sure he's very excited about it," Attfield said of Fipke. "If the horse has as much desire and belief as Chuck does, he's going to run very well for him."


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