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Great Racehorse: Ruffian, Queen of the Fillies.

Updated on May 8, 2014

The Filly That Would Be Queen

I have not thought about Ruffian for years because it is a painful memory. I know some will say she was just a horse but as a young girl she was more than that. As I had become a racehorse fan at a young age I kept up with what was going on in horse racing. Since Ruffian was a filly that made her even greater draw for me since she was a girl and us girls have to stick together. So, here is the story of a great racehorse and for many of us will not be forgotten. Ruffian was one of a kind and taken too soon. It makes me wonder what she would have done if on that July day she had smooth sailing around the track and beaten Foolish Pleasure. I know she would have won because she was a true champ and she never backed down. Here's to Ruffian.

Ruffian was foaled in 1972 at Claiborne Farms and was a dark bay almost coal black filly. She was very tall and stood at almost 17 hands. She was bred by Stuart Janney, Jr and Barbara Phipps Janney owners of Locust Hill Farm. Ruffian shared some of the same lineage as Secretariat through Bold Ruler. She was the foal of Shenanigans and was sired by Reviewer. Her grandsire was the great racehorse Bold Ruler and damsire was Native Dancer who was an exceptional mare. Ruffian was destined for greatness but unfortunately it came at a price. A moment set in time and many fans will not forget when it came time for her to pay up.

Queen of the Fillies

As a two year old she was voted the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Two-Year-Old Filly in 1974 and after that was known by her nickname “Queen of the Fillies”. The following year she won the Filly Triple Crown called the Triple Tiara. Ruffian was undefeated in her first ten races covering a distance from 1.5 miles with an average winning margin of 8 1/3 lengths. Secretariats trainer Lucien Laurin once said, Ruffian may even be better than Secretariat. After ten races her eleventh race would be the end of a great racehorse.

One fateful day Ruffian would match up with another legend, Foolish Pleasure. The match race was one of the biggest races dubbing girl against boy and attracting fans who had never watched a horse race. These two would meet in a match at Belmont Park in July of 1975. She led the champion colt through a quarter-mile before her front leg broke in two places. Jockey Jacinto Vasquez fought the filly for fifty yards before bringing her to a halt. Some say she just didn't want to quit and wanted to keep racing even though she had broken her leg. The crowd watched in horror as the great filly's hoof flopped around like a rag. The racing community and fans were heartbroken as Ruffian broke down.

Ruffian was rushed off the track where a team of veterinarians tried to save her. She had made it through the many hours of surgery but when she awoke Ruffian thrashed about. In doing this she not only ripped open the leg that she broke but she had hurt herself in other areas. Not being successful in calming her down Ruffian was euthanized. From this tragedy, today there are precautions taken when dealing with a horse coming out of anesthesia. There were improvements in the type of medication given to horses that sustain life threatening injuries. Many in the racing community did not want her tragic end to have been in vain and that something good could come out of it. She was much beloved and is considered to be one of the greatest fillies to have ever graced a track.

Ruffian (April 17, 1972 - July 7, 1975)

Ruffian is buried near a flagpole in the infield of Belmont Park. When she was alive, her trainer always put her in one of his old blankets. When she was buried, he buried her in two of his good blankets, because she deserved them. She was buried facing toward the finish line as all great champions should. Hundreds showed up to pay their respects as she was laid to rest.

Ruffian was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1976.

#35 Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century.

Named “Filly of the Century”.

Sport Illustrated put her as the only non-human on their list of the top 100 female athletes of the century, ranking her 53rd.

2007 a TV Film: Ruffian was released.

In May 26, 2009 at Belmont Park the Ruffian Equine Medical Center opened and was dedicated in her honor.

I am hoping with the new movie "Secretariat" that there will be more interest in horse racing and the great athletes that they are.

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    • profile image

      1BADLS6 6 years ago

      FOREVER REASON THE 1970S WERE THE BEST YEARS EVER FOR HORSE RACING, WISH WE COULD GO BACK TO THAT ERA, AND ERIC YOU WERE LUCKY TO GET THAT PICTURE OF THE GREATEST FILLY EVER....................................JHS64

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 6 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      @ Susan Green...There is a movie about Ruffian, produced after mighty argument among some of the principals involved. It's called "Ruffian", copyrighted by ESPN, distributed by Genius Entertainment in 2007.

      Sam Shepard plays the great black filly's controversial trainer, Frank Whiteley. The movie is excellent.

      Ruffian's loss was, indeed, tragic, and horrific to see, as all racetrack breakdowns are...Barbaro, Eight Belles...

    • profile image

      1BADLS6 6 years ago

      SECRETARIAT WAS THE KING, RUFFIAN WAS THE OUEEN.....................JHS64

    • profile image

      Susan Green 6 years ago

      Someone (perhaps Disney) needs to make a movie about Ruffian. The Secretariat movie was excellent, she deserves one too, but get a horse that was as gigantic and beautiful as she was.

    • profile image

      1BADLS6 7 years ago

      DID YOU KNOW THAT SPORTS ILLUSTRADED INCLUDED RUFFIAN AS THE ONLY NON HUMAN ON THE LIST TOP 100 FEMALE ATHELETES OF THE CENTURY RANKING 53RD. HOWS THAT FOR GREATNESS, LOVE ALL THE RACE HORSES, AND THANKS FOR THE GOOD MEMORIES.....................................JHS64

    • profile image

      john thomas 7 years ago

      I had just about forgotten about her too. Until the movie about her came out. I saw the match race and even though they were billing it as a battle of the sexes i rooted for her. She was unbelievably popular which made what happened even sadder. I think she was the greatest horse of all time filly or colt. She was undeafeted and broke 8 track records in only 10 races. She broke some of secretiats records and Zenyetta cam along I think Ruffian would have smoked her. All any other horse ever saw of her was her rear end getting farther away. No horse ever caught her from behind and there is no reason to think Zenyetta would have.

    • profile image

      Eric 7 years ago

      I just bought a large, old oil painting of her at a flea market in Northern California. I had no idea she was so special!

    • profile image

      1BADLS6 7 years ago

      THERE AE GOOD HORSES, THAN THERE ARE GREAT HORSES, THAN THERE ARE ONES TOUCH FROM GOD, RUFFIAN WAS TOUCHED FROM GOD, UNDEFEATED, JACINTO VASQUETZ RODE BOTH HORSES, WHEN THE MATCH RACE CAME HE RODE RUFFIAN, THAT SHOULD TELL YOU WHO WOULD HAVE WON THE MATCH RACE, RIP GREAT ONE UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN, I CAN SEE ALL THE CHAMPIONS RUNNING IN HEAVEN HAVING A GREAT TIME THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES...............

    • profile image

      1BADLS6 7 years ago

      RUFFIAN DOESN'T MELT YOUR HEART THAN YOU DON'T HAVE ONE. SHE IS NUMBER 1 ON MY BEST EVER LIST. SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL, FAST, TRACK RECORDS, MAY HAVE BEEN FAST OR FASTER THEN A lot OF STALLIONS, DIDN'T LIVE LONG ENOUGH TO KNOW. RIP BEAUTIFUL ONE YOUR MY DISTANCE DREAMER

    • marilan profile image

      marilan 7 years ago from Central New York

      Ruffian had an impact on me too. I always like to see a filly who can compete. It was a tragic loss. Thanks for remembering her.

    • profile image

      Kathy 7 years ago

      Thank you for remembering Ruffian, I would like to know how to send flowers for her at Belmont, does anyone know? I will keep looking around for info. It broke my heart to see what happened 1975. I was already against match races before Ruffian because of the Swaps Nashua race although Swaps was not injured so severely, he was injured by the match, this, now, well it is bad for the horses. I hope there are no more. Ruffian was too good of a horse for this end. We loved her.

    • profile image

      Zarah 7 years ago

      She was a superior queen. No horse could ever take her down.

    • profile image

      Lionel Bracken 7 years ago

      Thank you for writing this. I was a little boy when she died and I remember my grandfather crying - he saw her race and considered her the finest race horse ever. What a beautiful horse she was. Thanks again!

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