Horse > Ruffian
Ruffian was born in 1972 at Clairborne Farm and grew up to be one of the most physically impressive fillies of all time. Standing at 16.1 hands, she was certainly imposing from a physical standpoint but also backed it up on the track with an incredible career that ended in tragedy.
Bred and raced by Stuart and Barbara Janney, Ruffian asserted her dominance immediately, beginning with a 15-length victory in her debut at Belmont Park. A month later she won the 1974 Fashion Stakes before scoring in the Astoria and the Sorority. She also won the 1974 Spinaway by 12 3/4 lengths, but suffered a hairline fracture that ended her juvenile season. With five wins from five starts, she was named Champion 2-year-old Filly.
Trainer Frank Whiteley commented that Ruffian was one of the toughest racehorses he had ever worked with, and that she had toughed out the win in the Spinaway despite suffering the fracture somewhere down the stretch. “She doesn’t like to show weakness,” noted the trainer.
Making a full recovery thanks to some extended time off, Ruffian returned to the track by winning an allowance at Aqueduct. She would remain in New York and win the 1975 Comely Stakes, Acorn, Mother Goose and the Coaching Club American Oaks. She would win all five races by an average of 8 1/3 lengths, and also set records in each of the stakes races she won.
Ruffian’s connections then set up a summer match race hosted by Belmont Park against 1975 Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure. Jockey Jacinto Vasquez, who had ridden both horses, elected to ride Ruffian, believing that she was the better horse. Over 50,000 spectators packed into Belmont Park to watch the highly anticipated race, but none of them expected it to be Ruffian’s final race.
Ruffian led by a half length before disaster struck. Ruffian broke her front leg during the race, and despite Vasquez’s best efforts to let up, the filly’s competitive spirit pushed her through the unbelievable pain. Vasquez retold the story of the race, noting that he heard the right foreleg break.
Vets and handlers rushed in to save her, and eventually she had surgery under an orthopedic surgeon to try and repair the smashed front leg. When she awoke from the surgery after the anesthesia wore off, Ruffian was startled and thrashed about, leading to the leg breaking all over again. Despite their best efforts, Ruffian was euthanized because doctors believed she would not survive the recovery phase.
The public outcry from Ruffian’s unfortunate death was enormous, but it eventually led to better practices and care for Thoroughbreds who experience catastrophic injuries. Research pioneered by Susan Stover and Dr. Edward Keefer has improved the care procedures for racehorses, and led to much safer protocols and the development of better post-surgery equipment. The lessons learned from the tragedy have thus had some positive consequences for racehorses.
Ruffian posted a record of 10-0-0 in 11 starts and earned $313,428 through her stellar career. She was named Champion 2-year-old Filly in 1974 and Champion 3-year-old Filly winner in 1975. She was inducted in to the Hall of Fame in 1976.