Ruffian and Jockey Jacinto Vasquez

Ruffian (with Jockey Jacinto Vasquez) - Tragedy that led to reform - but heartbreaking nonetheless.

The Tragedy Of Ruffian – 1975 – Past Daily Playbook

Ruffian and Jockey Jacinto Vasquez
Ruffian (with Jockey Jacinto Vasquez) – Tragedy that led to reform – but heartbreaking nonetheless.

Ruffian-Foolish Pleasure Match Race – July 6-7, 1975 – Various reports and commentary – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –

Even people who knew nothing about horse racing were aware of the tragedy of this race by the end of the day on July 7, 1975. Billed as an Equine “Battle Of The Sexes”, between Kentucky Derby Winner Foolish Pleasure and “Super Filly” Ruffian who was by all accounts unbeatable. The race was a winner take all prize of $350,000 at Belmont Park with 20 million watching live on tv and listening in on radio.

Every race that Ruffian ran she won, and she won most of them easily. Sired by Bold Ruler, winner of the 1957 Preakness Stakes, dominated all other fillies she ran against. Among them, the three races (Acorn Stakes, Mother Goose Stakes, and Coaching Club American Oakes), composing the New York Tiara. Her average victory was by eight and a half lengths, giving some to call the three-year-old a female version of the legendary Secretariat. Ruffian turning three less than a month before the Kentucky Derby, she was held out of the Run for the Roses. That was run by Foolish Pleasure. A horse that was also sired by Bold Ruler. Ridden by Jacinto Valasquez, Foolish Pleasure beat Avatar with a strong surge down the stretch. However, hopes of a Triple Crown would be dashed as he lost to Master Derby in the Preakness Stakes and later finished third in the Belmont Stakes.

The race became a hit as Ruffian became the darling of all sports fans, hoping to show that she could run with the boys. Besides having the same sire, both horses had the same jockey and to the surprise of Foolish Pleasure trainer LeRoy Jolley, Jacinto Valasquez chose to ride Ruffian, who was trained by Frank Whiteley Jr. Braulio Baeza would take over the reins aboard the Derby Winner.

The race taking place at the end of Fourth of July weekend at New York’s Belmont Park, where Ruffian felt at home. With 50,000 spectators on hand and 20 million more watching at home, the race had a great deal of anticipation and became a spectacle that was on pace to become one of the great events of the decade. Ruffian wanting to show her dominance blasted out of the starting and despite bumping into the gate, was leading the one and a quarter mile race at the first quarter-mile mark as the two ran neck and neck at what seemed to be an impossible pace.

As the race reached the half-mile mark, Ruffian began to pull away when suddenly she took a wrong step as a flock of birds came across the track. Her jockey knowing Ruffian was hurt tried to pull her up, but she tried to continue before finally coming to a halt. Foolish Pleasure would go on to finish the race and win the purse, but all eyes turned back to the filly.

The news was as bad as it could be for a horse, as Ruffian shattered two bones in her front right leg. Over the next few hours, doctors tried to save the horse, but after waking from the initial surgery, Ruffian looking to run did even more damage. This left doctors with no choice but to humanely kill her with a lethal dose phenobarbital.

The horse racing community was shaken by the death of Ruffian as what started as a spectacle became a tragedy, as the heartbreak extended to the viewers who many were so sadden by the death of the filly never watched racing again. Ruffian would be buried on the infield at Belmont Park, with her nose pointed at the finish line. In her memory, an annual race called the Ruffian Stakes for fillies and mares is now held at the track. They would also name a specialized veterinary clinic in her honor. Most importantly, all other match races have been banned in horse racing.

Here is a series of reports and commentaries on that tragic race, all given as it happened between July 6 and 7, 1975.

Special thanks to for background.

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