More Than “Horse Flesh”

Here it is April and it reminds me not only of the ill-fated passage of the Royal Mail Steamer Titanic, but also of the birth of the queen of all fillies — April 17, 1972, Ruffian was born. Joe Hirsch said she was “the most imposing juvenile filly he’d ever seen” and William Nack, author of Ruffian: A Racetrack Romance, said she looked like “an outside linebacker”. She imposed the fear factor the military channel speaks of on other fillies in the gate. From the start, it is true I had a gambling addiction, but I loved this horse. She was the class people go to see at the track. When she went by, she did not blot out the sun, but the “Sun King” would have wagered a king’s ransom on her countenance. You judge conformation by looking at the horse in the big race and this was the big racehorse. I know boy horses were supposed to rule the roost and be faster, but Ruffian cast doubt upon that masculine halo of horse racing. So there was a big race between Foolish Pleasure and Ruffian. Racehorses have skimpy front legs. Some people, in order to cheat, try to dope the legs — the track checks that factor. Some pack the legs in ice. The front legs are the Achilles’ heel of horse racing, and so everything humanly possible is done to make the surface of the track as safe as humanly possible. They were off and pulling — it was hard to see who was imposing who. Ruffian liked to go eyeball to eyeball, and clearly the horses were glaring at each other. Ruffian must have found a hole. How, or how deep, or what the undulation was, I don’t know, but she broke her leg. They tried surgery. Back then they did not put the animal in water. Now they even train horses in big swimming pools, I am told, but when Ruffian came out from under the anesthesia, she was in horrible pain and broke her leg all over again. She died July 7, 1975. It broke my heart and I stopped gambling on horses. It was a shock to me. My wife and I love horses and raised Arabians for a while. There was always the hope that Secretariat and Ruffian would be a twain. People outside the world of horses think the track is shallow and that that training is hit or miss. There is nothing further from the truth. I saw an owner yell at a trainer to get a jockey off of her horse once. And when we bought our first Arabian, Mrs. Gilley told me, “Mike, keep a cowboy off that horse. You get familiar with her. Give her a carrot and play with her belly and her tits. If I hear of you trying to fast break this horse, I am coming after you!” “Yes, ma’am.” As for Ruffian, if I had her and saw the jockey wasn’t with it, I would have him off in a hurry. I still care about Ruffian. Come to think of it, she did block out the sun for me.