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New here in English, Nov. 2023  - GERMAN version

My tribute to the best....



RUFFIAN was a muscular, tall, almost black, promising thoroughbred mare. She won each of her 10 races, by an average of 8 1/2 lengths, outclassed and broke the hearts of her competitors, breaking or equaling the track record at every start. She was always at the front of every race and simply flew away from the competition, and it looked incredibly easy too. Many who saw her race are still convinced that she was the fastest horse in the history of racing. She was certainly the thoroughbred mare of the century -- until that tragic, final race on July 6, 1975, the duel against the Kentucky Derby winner stallion FOOLISH PLEASURE, dubbed "Great Match", "Race of the Champions" or even " Battle of the Sexes". Still on the back stretch, after just 600 yards (3 furlongs), leading with half a length, she broke her right front leg. She stayed on her feet and her jockey struggled to get her stand. After hours of emergency surgery, she panicked when she woke up from anesthesia and broke the cast and the other, healthy front leg. The entire American nation mourned. RUFFIAN was only three years old.

No, it wasn't Pearl Harbor 1941, it wasn't Dallas November 22, 1963, it wasn't 9/11, but many Americans can still remember what they were doing or where they were when they heard the news on the radio that RUFFIAN had been euthanized. It was the lowest, saddest hour in horse racing ever.

Her story is told in this song and video by Gerry Lukacik :

"...And she showed the whole world that Girls can be ruffians too..!"

more for Ruffian: http://www.spiletta.com/UTHOF/ruffian.html
more videos of all her races: Ruffian videos at YouTube
Ruffian (Film von 2007), very beautiful and sad


The fact that she was not only the fastest of all the mares, but might have been faster than SECRETARIAT was also admitted by his trainer as a possibility - "BIG RED", the wonder horse whose Triple Crown victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes over 1 1/2 Miles, 31 lengths ahead of second, hammered the record of 2:24.0 (that's an average speed of 37.5 mph), which still stands today..!

But there was one big, important difference between the two: SECRETARIAT had stamina, he was a stayer. He, who was rather clumsy and slow as a foal, had to learn to get out of the starting box promptly and accelerate in his first races. When he ran, he was almost invincible thanks to his athleticism and stamina. This was clearly evident in the Belmont Stakes, his quarter-mile split times barely slowing: 23.6 - 22.6 - 23.6 - 24.4 - 24.8 - 25. But even the stamina of this "tremendous machine" was not unlimited. After all, he was a horse from this world. Others won the Triple Crown after him (anyone remember SEATTLE SLEW?). His rival SHAM was probably injured during the race which slowed him down in the last third. RUFFIAN, on the other hand, at 510.3 kg was only slightly lighter than SECRETARIAT (524 kg), but significantly heavier than her match race rival FOOLISH PLEASURE at 481.3 kg, had a body comparable to Secretariat and was an inch taller, but a sprinter. She came out fast and intimidated her (mostly physically weaker) opponents by immediately going to the front and sweeping away.  She ran in front at every race and was used to leave every other horse behind.

The second difference was, that her legs were thin as matchsticks. With her muscles trained for sprinting in short races, she was physically a disaster waiting to happen. The health deficiencies of her lineage were well known and her trainer, Frank Whiteley, was certainly aware of it. He raced her, so to be acknowledged, cautiously and just against mares. Except for HOT N NASTY and perhaps COPERNICA, she may never had real competition. Her jockey Jacinto Vásquez only needed the whip in one race. Her phenomenal performance put him under pressure to let her run against colts, which he, Whiteley, intended to delay until she was age 4.

Of her 10 races, she had only run longer than one mile twice. One and a half once, on June 21, 1975,  just 2 weeks before the match race. Won it in 2:27.8 (and the filly triple crown with it), this 3.8 seconds slower than Secretariat two years earlier (also at Belmont). Not because she couldn't run faster, but because she didn't need to for winning. In any case, she had been ridden tactically in that race, and showed a basis for running longer distances.

SECRETARIAT ran on the racetrack two seasons long, not significantly longer than RUFFIAN, but performed twelve races longer than one mile. He was then sold into breeding, but would have had the health to keep running.
For the good younger stallions that came after him, he would had made it very difficult or almost impossible  to win. RUFFIAN, on the other hand, should had been trained for stamina in the vague hope of making her foundation stronger. The match race therefore came too early for RUFFIAN and with too little recovery time after her last, longest race.

FOOLISH PLEASURE, compared to Ruffian, had completed his last race a month before the Match Race, time to recover well,
which was his sixth longer than a mile: Belmont Stakes, which he narrowly lost to AVATAR in 2:28.2 (and with it the Triple Crown). That means he ran slower than RUFFIAN, although giving everything to win. While RUFFIAN had been ridden tactically in her race, apart from the finish, not faster than needed to win, and get through the distance. Therefore, for the match race, FOOLISH's jockey Baeza could rightfully assume that tactical riding would be of no use, especially since the agreed distance was only 1 1/4 miles. So it became a terrible, disastrous long sprint, and RUFFIAN ran with the fatal confidence that she did what she did best and never had lost a single one.

The first quarter mile was run in a blazing fast 22.2, even though, unfortenately RUFFIAN had hit her left shoulder hard in the starting box, which is why Foolish actually had a nose ahead in the first few yards. And probably this was the reason for her misstep when she changed gaits at the fatal point. In any case, it certainly wasn't the pigeons flying off the track; she had surely seen them many times before, and they only seemed so close through the perspective of the telephoto lens. Even a lion on the track wouldn't have caused her to spook at that blazing speed. No, she was literally running herself to death, driven by Foolish Pleasure, her first real competitor. Her jockey could do nothing but let her go. Her trainer (or the owners) could have done something. A longer distance, for example - if they could have known beforehand (!) that RUFFIAN could handle 1 1/2 miles well, or better than Foolish. A long distance should have been approached tactically, "calmly" and then finishing the last two furlongs. But Foolish's chances of winning then would have been that minimal, so his owners/trainers would hardly have agreed to it. Better yet, refuse the match race altogether, postpone it, perhaps pretend she had an injury, just give her more time and train her for stamina -- if this had even been possible with her matchstick-thin legs...

Ruffian Sticker 1975


It was not meant to be... and from the deepest ground we humans are animals who love hero stories and four-legged heroes too, and racehorse stories, perhaps since more than 5,000 years. But behind it is a business that employs a lot of people, in which hardly anyone gets rich: Seldom the owners, trainers and jockeys, even rarer the veterinarians. Thousands of racehorses had to race with injuries, many of them "normalized" with medication, which is an incredible, blatant scandal (and personally enough for me not to go to a racetrack or bet). Many die with injuries, but most of them in the background and only a few spectacular in front of the cameras as RUFFIAN - or EIGHT BELLES (on May 3, 2008 in the Kentucky Derby 200 yards after crossing the finish line in second place).

On such sad days it becomes clear to everyone: horse racing is a business with horses and at their expense. If it were a sport like the fans explain it and would like it to be, scientific training methods, as usual in human athletic disciplines, would be promising, lucrative and would therefore be executed. Tell me, in which athletic disciplines records stay for 50 years? And unlike humans, the animals can even be bred for performance, as well as for rapid growth, fat accumulation and additional ribs for steaks (leave away human views of beauty). And most breeders claim to have this in mind. But with what results, where is the proof? It would be child's play to measure on the racetrack. Training and breeding, where are you??

Racing for two-year-olds is one of the fundamental evils. Mainly because you let babies run, they have to be short, and the horses learn something totally wrong here, namely how to sprint. But speed is the easiest thing to teach a horse and the most dangerous! Babies love speed! However, you cannot extend the sprints arbitrarily, even though this is the main training method used, which is another evil. Tired horses in the last quarter of the distance are most at risk. When the muscles tire, only tendons and ligaments are left to absorb the impact at 37.5 miles per hour.

The races with the largest purses should be for horses beeing 5 and older!

I know not everyone is the same. The vast majority of horse racing trainers certainly only have the best intentions in mind for the animals entrusted to them. I also assume that from Frank Whiteley. May he in heaven enjoy Secretariat and Ruffian playfull runnings on the green pastures who is faster. More than in the past, many racehorses today are ridden out in the woods and getting strong here.

We all have to make our horses stayers, not sprinters, in order to stay healthy for a long life...

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