Ruffian (horse)

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Ruffian, ridden by Jacinto Vasquez
Sire Reviewer
Grandsire Bold Ruler
Dam Shenanigans
Damsire Native Dancer
Sex Filly
Foaled 1972
Country United States
Colour Dark brown or Black
Breeder Stuart & Barbara Janney
Owner Stuart & Barbara Janney
Trainer Frank Y. Whiteley, Jr.
Record 11:10-0-0 (1 DNF)
Earnings $313,429
Major wins
Fashion Stakes (1974)
Astoria Stakes (1974)
Spinaway Stakes (1974)
Sorority Stakes (1974)
Comely Stakes (1975)
Acorn Stakes (1975)
Mother Goose Stakes (1975)
Coaching Club American Oaks (1975)
U.S. Champion 2-Yr-Old- Filly (1974)
4th U.S. Triple Tiara Champion (1975)
U.S. Champion 3-Yr-Old- Filly (1975)

U.S. Racing Hall of Fame (1976)
#35 - Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century #1 - Top U.S Female Racehorse of the 20th Century

Ruffian Handicap at Saratoga Race Course (since 2010; previously ran at
Belmont Park 1976–2009)
TV Film: Ruffian (2007)
Last updated on May 25, 2006

Ruffian (April 17, 1972 – July 7, 1975) was an American champion thoroughbred racehorse. Ruffian was ranked among the top U.S. racehorses of the 20th century by The Blood-Horse magazine. Her story was told in the 2007 film Ruffian.


A Dark brown or black filly of 16.2 hands, Ruffian was foaled at Claiborne Farm, near Paris, Kentucky. She was bred by Stuart S. Janney, Jr. and Barbara Phipps Janney, owners of Locust Hill Farm in Glyndon, Maryland. Ruffian was sired by the Phipps family's Bold Ruler stallion, Reviewer, and out of the Native Dancer mare Shenanigans. As a yearling and 2-year-old, she was trained by Frank Y. Whiteley, Jr..

She earned the nickname "Queen of the Fillies" after being voted the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Two-Year-Old Filly in 1974 and winning the Filly Triple Crown (now called the Triple Tiara) in 1975. Ruffian was undefeated in her first ten races, covering distances from 5.5 furlongs (1.1 km) to 1.5 miles (2.4 km), with an average winning margin of 813 lengths. She won her maiden race in record time by 15 lengths. She was on the lead at every point of call in every race she ever ran. She set a new stakes record in each of the eight stakes races she won. She also equaled two track records. Ruffian's jockey Jacinto Vasquez was asked in an interview if it was hard to get in the lead at the beginning of races. He replied, "No, Ruffian sets her own pace and gets there on her own". Ruffian won the Sorority Stakes (setting a new stakes record) on a freshly popped splint, which, although not a serious injury, was painful and enough to take the edge off of most horses.

Ruffian won the Spinaway in a track record time of 1:08.03. The morning after the race, a stable hand found that she had left a lot of her food untouched. Whiteley examined the filly and noticed that her right hind leg was sensitive, so he had a veterinarian perform scans on her leg. It was discovered that she had a hairline fracture on her hind leg.

Whiteley was interviewed about the fracture and asked if it were true that it happened during the race. He answered, "It did happen during the race, she was just a couple of strides from the wire." When asked why he thought Ruffian was not showing any signs of being hurt until the next day, he replied, "She is a very tough filly, and doesn't like to show any weaknesses."

All but one of Ruffian's records remain unbroken. The only exception is her Mother Goose Stakes record, which she raced in 1:47.80 and won by 1312 lengths. Her record was beaten by Rachel Alexandra in 2009, who finished in 1:46.33 with a winning margin of 1912 lengths. Ruffian's Mother Goose was won over two turns at Aqueduct against five opponents; a sixth filly, Dan's Commander, trained by James W. Woods, unseated her jockey, Rudy Turcotte, at the start. Rachel Alexandra defeated two fillies in a one-turn mile and one-eighth at Belmont.

Final race and death[edit]

Ruffian's eleventh race was run at Belmont Park on July 6, 1975. It was a match race between her and that year's Kentucky Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure. In the past, the horses had shared the same jockey: Jacinto Vasquez. Vasquez chose to ride Ruffian in the match race, believing her to be the better of the horses; Braulio Baeza rode Foolish Pleasure. The "Great Match" was heavily anticipated and attended by more than 50,000 spectators, with an estimated television audience of 20 million.

As Ruffian left the starting gate, she hit her shoulder hard before straightening herself. The first quarter-mile (402 m) was run in 2215 seconds, with Ruffian ahead by a nose. Little more than 1 furlong (201 m) later, Ruffian was in front by half a length when both sesamoid bones in her right foreleg snapped. Vasquez tried to pull her up, but the filly would not stop. She went on running, pulverizing her sesamoids, ripping the skin of her fetlock and tearing her ligaments until her hoof was flopping uselessly. Vasquez said it was impossible for him to stop her. She still tried to run and finish the race. Video showed Ruffian was startled by a bird from infield and took misstep. [1]

Ruffian was immediately attended to by a team of four veterinarians and an orthopedic surgeon, and underwent an emergency operation lasting three hours. When the anesthesia wore off after the surgery, she thrashed about wildly on the floor of a padded recovery stall as if still running in the race. Despite the efforts of numerous attendants, she began spinning in circles on the floor. As she flailed about with her legs, she repeatedly knocked the heavy plaster cast against her own elbow until the elbow, too, was smashed to bits. The vet who treated her said that her elbow was shattered and looked like a piece of ice after being smashed on the ground.[1] The cast slipped, and as it became dislodged it ripped open her foreleg all over again, undoing the surgery. The medical team, knowing that Ruffian would probably not survive more extensive surgery for the repair of her leg and elbow, euthanized her shortly afterward.[2]

Before Ruffian broke down, she always led the field by over half a length, and once there no other horse ever passed her; she would not allow it, as demonstrated in her Sorority race when she refused to let Hot n' Nasty by her, even though she suffered from a freshly popped splint.


Ruffian's breakdown and death led to a public outcry for more humane treatment of racehorses. As it is natural for horses to thrash and kick when coming out of anesthesia, a "recovery pool" was developed so that they awake suspended in warm water and don't re-injure themselves. [1] Medications such as corticosteroids for inflammation and pain management came into common use. However, while helping the horses in the short term, the increased use of medications at the track had a downside, as many more horses were raced while injured. In America, after Ruffian's death there has never been another match race between two horse racing champions.[3][not in citation given]

Ruffian's bloodline[edit]

Ruffian's bloodline may be considered at least partly to blame for her broken leg; her sire, Reviewer, suffered three breakdowns in his racing career. After his fourth and last breakdown, which occurred while in his paddock, he had to be euthanized after surgery.[2][4][5] Shenanigans, Ruffian's dam, broke two legs during her life and was euthanized following intestinal surgery on May 21, 1977. Ruffian's damsire, Native Dancer, is often considered to be the purveyor of "soft boned" genetics.[6]


Ruffian is buried near a flag pole in the infield of Belmont Park, with her nose pointed toward the finish line.[2]

Ruffian posthumously earned the 1975 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Three-Year-Old Filly. In 1976, she was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. The Blood-Horse magazine ranked her 35th in its list of the top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century; she is the highest-rated filly (or mare) on the list, and the only female horse on both lists (best female, best horse). Sports Illustrated included her as the only non-human on their list of the top 100 female athletes of the century, ranking her 53rd.[7]

In the summer of 1975, the folk singer Joan Baez dedicated a version of the song "Stewball" to Ruffian.[8]

Since 1976, the Ruffian Handicap has been run in Ruffian's honor. Until 2009, the race had been held at Belmont Park (on Long Island, New York), but it was moved upstate to Saratoga Race Course in 2010. In 2014, the Ruffian Handicap was moved back to Belmont Park.[9]

The Ruffian Equine Medical Center opened on May 26, 2009. It cost $18 million and is located outside Gate 8 of Belmont Park. Inside the facility, specialists work to solve problems before they become major issues, such as a colt showing lameness that can be diagnosed and cured before he makes the track, perhaps providing such an animal a chance to do his job and have a good life beyond the track.

Ruffian has many titles, such as "Queen of the Fillies", "Queen of the Century", "Queen of Racing", "Queen of the Track", "Filly of the Century", "The Super Filly" and more. Several books about her have been published, such as Ruffian, Burning from the Start or Ruffian, A Racetrack Romance and Ruffian or The Licorice Daughter, My Year with Ruffian.

Ruffian is the subject of a book of poems by major American poet Lyn Lifshin, entitled "The Licorice Daughter: My Year with Ruffian" (Texas Review Press).


Pedigree of Ruffian
Bold Ruler Nasrullah Nearco
Mumtaz Begum
Miss Disco Discovery
Broadway Hasty Road Roman
Traffic Court
Flitabout Challedon
Bird Flower
Native Dancer Polynesian Unbreakable
Black Polly
Geisha Discovery
Bold Irish Fighting Fox Sir Gallahad
Erin Transmute
Rosie O'Grady

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Schwartz, Jane (1994-03-02). Ruffian: Burning From the Start. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-38602-7. 
  2. ^ a b c Jones, Kathleen (2002). "Ruffian". Archived from the original on 2008-04-04. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  3. ^ Schmid, Neal (2004-05-01). "Horse of a different color". Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Parker, Ellen. "Ruffian - What Made Her Great Made Her Die". Pedilnes. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Sports Illustrated 100 Greatest Female Athletes". CNN. 
  8. ^ Baez, Joan (1976). From Every Stage (CD). A&M. 
  9. ^ "Ten Things You Should Know About the Ruffian Handicap at Hello Race Fans". 

External links[edit]