- Historic Sites
September 1993 | Volume 44, Issue 5
They would attempt to save her, not for racing—that was impossible—but for breeding. And because she was Ruffian.
With the greatest difficulty X rays were taken, the pictures rushed back to the stall dripping with the development fluid and horrible to look at. They showed that if there was to be any hope at all of saving her, an immediate operation was needed. It would be better to get her to Dr. William O. Reed’s equine hospital just outside the track and do it there rather than in the stall. She was carried to the ambulance for the brief trip.
Anesthetized and strapped to a vertical table, she breathed very slowly while her pulse was dangerously high. She who had never really broken a sweat in any of her races was showing extreme-stress perspiration to a frightening degree. They could not stabilize her vital signs for more than an hour. They gave her fluid, oxygen, flushed the wound, used artificial respiration and stimulants to get her stabilized. Dr. Edward Keefer, an orthopedic specialist from New York Hospital, was hurriedly sent for and with a blacksmith constructed a complex boot-shoe to put on her leg in such fashion that it would lift the heel and take pressure from the destroyed sesamoid area. The shoe was hinged to a metal strip running up behind the leg with metal supports and was encased in a bulky plaster case, the total weight some forty or fifty pounds. But there were no illusions on anyone’s part. When Stuart Janney asked Dr. Harthill what her chances were, the vet replied, “Something less than ten percent.”
Unconscious for the more than two-hour operation, very seriously dehydrated, her vital signs rising and falling, she was slipped off the operating table and into the hospital recovery room to lie on the padded floor. But she could not stay there for long. A horse is meant to be on its legs. If it lies on its side for any extended period, paralysis results. The condition is irreversible.
Midnight of July 6 passed. It was hot and humid in the equine hospital. The air conditioning went off. The Janneys left (Mrs. Janney was not at all well). Whiteley sat in a chair chainsmoking and with the look of a dead man about him, those who were there told Ruffian’s biographer Jane Schwartz.
The late-night radio and television broadcasts informed people going to bed at the end of the long Fourth of July weekend that she was in the recovery room. She lay there. Sometime before two in the morning she began to come out of the anesthesia.
She stirred. The legs moved. Lying on her side, she stretched out as her legs sped up.
She was trying to run.
Men threw themselves down and tried to restrain her. “She flung us around like little children,” Dr. Harthill remembered. “Like rag dolls.” Her lying-down paddling motion got faster and faster. They could not know exactly why. Perhaps she was trying to run from terrible pain and danger, as is the horse’s instinct, or perhaps she wanted to fling away the heavy metal-and-plaster cast. Perhaps she had awakened from the anesthesia where she had been eight hours earlier, on a racetrack, flying, staying in front of Foolish Pleasure.
The boot-shoe loosened and began to slide down her thrashing, hideously swollen right front leg, ripping open the wound as it came. Her running action spun her in a horrible futile circle on the blood-drenched floor, centrifugal force dragging the shoe-boot down her leg. Her foot hung by shreds of skin. Lying on her side in agony, she tried to run.
Desperately they injected sedatives, and she lapsed into sleep. Do another operation? More of this? Janney was telephoned. “Please don’t let her suffer any more,” he said.
The initial breaking of the leg might have been dealt with, but then she had fought on, trying to stay with Foolish Pleasure, and so, Dr. Harthill said, made the injury one hundred times worse. When she came out of the anesthesia in the recovery room, she had tried to run once more, negating all that the vets had tried to do. “The same thing that made her win made her die,” Dr. Jim Prendergast said. At 2:20 A.M. a massive dose of ph»nobarbital was injected, and, as was said, she passed on to other races.
The front pages of the tabloid Post and Daily News carried great headlines and no other stories. The Times had a three-column front-page story and picture. But most people learned from their radios or television sets. The sixteen-year-old, later-of- The Form Linda Souyack switched on her radio as soon as she awoke, heard, and burst into tears. She would have her two-dollar ticket laminated to keep through the years along with her track program and her button. Of course, this was not John F. Kennedy in 1963, and of course, this was not Pearl Harbor in 1941, but there are no small number of people who can remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard Ruffian was gone.