TRIBUTES are pouring in for well-known racing personality Matthew Lips (64), who died in Durban’s Wentworth Hospital after a period of illness on Friday morning.
Born Matthew Lipman in India, he left Fort Victoria in the old Rhodesia for South Africa in 1980 and joined media entrepreneur Owen Heffer in 1987, just after Heffer had started Winning Form. They were close associates while Heffer built the Winning Form Group into the giant that is Hollywoodbets today.
Lips, for years, was extraordinarily popular for his insightful summaries and outstanding tips in Winning Form’s ‘Magic Lips’ column and became the standard for tipsters in the 1990s and 2000s. He left Winning Form to join the National Horseracing Authority as senior handicapper in 2012, a position he held until his passing.
Lips had been suffering from emphysema. He also had a heart condition and his friends, trainers Clinton Binda and Paul Lafferty, were of the last people to speak with him earlier this week.
Binda said: “Matthew was a wealth of racing knowledge. I’ve never seen anyone with racing information so much at his fingertips. People would argue with Matthew about facts he already knew. They’d have to research it, to confirm answers he’d already given them. He was an oddball, but a very unique individual and a big loss to racing.
“We shared a chuckle till near the end. There was a gentleman in the bed next to him in the High Care Unit. He said: ‘Hey man, Matthew and I go way back, we backed winners together I will keep him chatting, he won’t fall asleep!’ He had someone that recognised him as one of racing’s greatest experts, even on his deathbed.”
Binda had phoned Lafferty, who was in the UK this week, and he handed the phone to Matthew, who answered, ‘Laff, I am heeere!’ – a joke many of their fans would understand. It originated from their association as TV pundits, when Laff found a perfect sounding board for his unique, dry humour in Matthew, a man he described as “as intelligent as I’ve ever known.”
For his tremendous knowledge of pedigrees and form, Matthew was nicknamed in the late 90s as, ‘The Oracle’ by friend Lynton Ryan, the bloodstock expert. Lafferty habitually ended pre-race interviews with Lips with the expression, ‘Well, there you have it. That’s The Oracle!’
Lafferty added: “We were good friends for 40 years, we visited, we shared fun, laughter and racing thrills. I have many tales to tell about our adventures together. Matthew had some personal problems and he let things slip over the last year, it is very sad. But he will live on in our hearts. He will be sorely missed.”
Photographer Candiese Lenferna wrote on Facebook: “So absolutely heartbroken to hear of this wonderful man’s passing. Really got to know him well in the past few years, as he always caught a lift with us to Hollywoodbets Scottsville. A brilliant racing mind and an even better sense of humour, the best.
“Our car trips were never quiet, they were filled with plenty of entertainment, one particularly memorable drive back was after a horse called Peanut Butter romped home at Scotssville- Matthew was in his best form with sayings like “she isn’t a nutty filly”, “she didn’t spread a shoe in the running” and “she never got jammed at the finish.”
“One particular Scottsville meeting, the horses were finishing so close together on the line in just about every race which makes for a photographer’s nightmare, and I would have a humorous whine at him and threaten that he could walk home, and he absolutely loved that – the pride of getting his handicapping so right was special and there were many days of challenging finishes because he was so good at what he did.
“There was another time when a hail storm hit on the way home from Pietermaritzburg and we phoned ahead and diverted to Ashburton, hiding my new car in a hay barn until it passed and Matthew spent the entire hour with the horses, patting and talking to them softly. He really loved them.
“I will miss his Facebook posts for sure, whether it was about ships or dodgy record album covers, it always made for an entertaining read. Will miss you ‘Mannthew’, Matthew Lipman as affectionately known, may you Rest In Peace!”
Well. That Was The Oracle.