Ruffian

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The next month, August, she went up to Saratoga for the Spinaway Stakes. The main opposition would be Laughing Bridge, who had won the track’s Schuylerville and Adirondack, victories indicating that Saratoga very well suited Laughing Bridge. There is a saying that there are horses for courses, for all tracks have variants in soil and turns and length of the stretch, and there was no certainty that Ruffian would feel at home at what horse people cal the Spa. The horses got off with Ruffian showing the way and Laughing Bridge lying back in third. Vasquez, suspended again, was on the ground, anc Vince Bracciale was on board.

They went down the backstretch witr Ruffian holding a three-length advantage as Bracciale almost strangled hei to keep the speed down. Yet she wa; setting blazing fractions. It seemed tc William H. Rudy of The Bloodhorse that she was, as he wrote, “almost loaf ing” but that her ease of motion anc beautiful stride masked her swiftness “One was seeing something very rare.’

Coming off the far turn, Laughing Bridge made her move and took ove: second place. Bracciale let the reins ou a bit, and at once Ruffian effortlessly shot forward. Laughing Bridge was being whipped and driven, but Ruffian in leisured fashion widened her lead with every step. Bracciale knew the race was won and that Frank Whiteley would not want the filly needlessly extended, so he tried to slow her. Through the stretch he steadily tightened up the reins and felt he’d gotten her throttled down. She won by thirteen lengths. “Easily,” said The Daily Racing Form . An outrider, one of the red-coated horsemen patrolling the track, came up as Bracciale halted the horse to turn her for the winner’s circle and asked the jockey how fast he thought he’d gone. Bracciale supposed it was a minute and eleven seconds, maybe ten and change. “I never really let her run, you know.”

Together they cantered back to the front of the grandstand, and Bracciale looked over to the tote board in the infield where the time of the race was up in lights. “That can’t be right,” Bracciale said to the outrider. “You saw me, I was choking her for the last eighth. I was pulling her up all the way home!”

Ruffian set a record for six furlongs for any two year-old in the histoiy of Saratoga, where horses began running at the end of the Civil War.

The time was 1:083A. That was not only a new record for the Spinaway Stakes, whose eighty-third running this had been, but a new record for six furlongs for any two-year old in the history of Saratoga, where horses began running at the end of the Civil War.

A month later, when Whiteley came into his barn, he was told Ruffian had not finished her 4:00 A.M. serving of grain. That was bad. In-work and healthy horses don’t leave oats in their buckets. Whiteley took her temperature. It was slightly above normal. And it seemed to him that he saw a slight, hardly detectable, right rear misstep as she turned around. He had veterinarian Jim Prendergast take one hundred X rays. An almost invisible crack showed up on the lower right pastern. They put on a light cast and sent her back to the farm.

 

In January of 1975, the Eclipses, racing’s Academy Awards, were announced. There was never any doubt that Ruffian would be named Best Two-Year-Old Filly of the more than twenty-five thousand Thoroughbreds born in her year. The award of Best Colt went to Foolish Pleasure. That also was no surprise. He had raced seven times, winning upon each occasion. On the day following Ruffian’s Spinaway at Saratoga, he had taken a division of the Hopeful Stakes, which, because of the large number of entries, had been split in two sections. (That had been a tough couple of days for Jacinto Vasquez, on the ground watching Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure win, with others getting the 10 percent winning-jockey fees, for he was the regularly assigned rider for both.)

Foolish Pleasure was a grandson of the omnipresent Bold Ruler through his father, What a Pleasure, but in physical appearance he greatly resembled his maternal grandfather, Tom Fool, not overly large but rugged and very powerful. Horsemen don’t use the word great when discussing a racer until he’s won on all kinds of courses—fast tracks, sloppy ones, long, short, carrying weight, shipping in—and even then they don’t say it until the animal goes to stud and produces a slew of good runners. For Tom Fool the word was used. Foolish Pleasure might not be seen as quite in his grandfather’s class—only three or four horses in history have ever been—but he was certainly an outstanding individual. He usually stayed back in the early going and came with a rush at the end.