"A colorful story...Ruffian was nothing if not a heartbreaker. Her story, dramatically recounted by Jane Scwartz, epitomizes both the adrenaline-pumping glory and gut-wrenching ruthlessness inherent in the sport of horse racing."
THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD
Here is the story f the exceptional filly, a horse so dominating, she was likened to legend. Beginning with her earliest days in Kentucky, the book follows Ruffian at every stage of her career and through the agony of her final hours--venturing behind the scenes of the racing world, and exploring the politics and personalities that came together to shape this exroardiinary filly's life.
Ruffian was arguably the best thoroughbred filly that ever raced: the horse won all five of the events it entered as a two-year-old in 1973, frequently setting or tying track records, and duplicated that string of successes the following year, taking the filly triple crown. On July 6, 1975, Ruffian was entered in a match race against Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure; partway through the race Ruffian broke a front leg and, despite an operation, had to be destroyed. Schwartz ( Caught ) on occasion annoyingly anthropomorphizes the horse, as when she describes Ruffian as "self-possessed, self-assured" and, on the day of the fatal race, "aware that something big was coming up." Despite this tendency, however, the book is a moving tribute to a great horse, and will leave a lump in the throat of devotees of the sport of kings. Photos.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 01, 1994
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Excerpt from Ruffian by Jane Schwartz
Buck Jones yawned and looked at his watch. It was funny how time went late at night. He had started his shift at midnight, relieving Louis Otero, and all he had done since then was pace up and down the shedrow or lean against the wall and sip coffee from his thermos. Yet it was already half past three.
He didn't even have a radio. This was Frank Whiteley's barn, and Whiteley didn't allow radios. Buck could understand that. He'd been a horseman himself for almost twenty years. The boss wasn't paying him to listen to music. Horse watching was a job. Especially in a case like this. The President, the Pope, and the Queen of England all rolled into one couldn't have gotten more attention than this filly had been getting the last few weeks, ever since they had announced the Match.
Buck looked over at her. She was awake now, alert in her stall, ears pricked forward.
"You'll get your breakfast soon enough." Buck smiled and tugged at the belt of his uniform. He was a big man, and he'd put on a few more pounds since becoming a Pinkerton. He could appreciate the filly's appetite.
She wasn't fidgeting or fussing, though. She never did. But there was something about her--Buck had been trying to figure it out all week. He had watched her before, when she raced, but only from the paddock or the stands, like everyone else. Up close, these past few nights, he'd begun to realize what it was: She had the uncanny ability to seem calm and excited at the same time. Perfectly at ease, and yet--eager, intense, wired. He had never seen that in a horse before. Or, for that matter, in a person, either.
The filly stretched out her neck to catch the summer breezes drifting over from the track. Buck thought of the crowds that cheered her every time she ran. If only they could see her now. She was a towering filly, and had always looked magnificent on those bright afternoons when she raced, her near-black coat flashing spears of sunlight as she paraded to the post. But at night, with moonlight filtering down on her, she was even more striking. Silvery, shining, radiant, like something in a dream. Only she wasn't a dream. She was real.
That was hard to believe sometimes, especially if you opened up the paper and studied her form. It wasn't just that she was undefeated: She was perfect. At every point of call, in every race, she had been in front. She didn't always break well, but within a step or two she invariably gained the lead. Five times as a two-year- old, and five times again so far at three. What was even more amazing, she had done it at every distance from a sprint to a mile and a half. Always first. Always on the lead. Perfect.
At the other end of the barn Whiteley's regular night watchman, Hamp Beaufort, was busy getting ready for the four a.m. meal. He muttered softly to himself as he walked through the barn pouring oats into the feed tubs. One by one all the horses poked their heads out of their stalls, nickering and coming to life. Breakfast, they said up and down the line. Morning. Another day. They knew.
Whiteley's assistant, Mike Bell, shifted on his narrow cot and woke up. Although he had an apartment nearby in Elmont, he had long ago formed the habit of sleeping at the barn for several nights before each of the filly's races. When Hamp started back down the row, hooking the tubs inside each stall, Mike squinted up at him, half waved, and turned over, hoping to squeeze in a few more minutes' sleep.
While the horses buried their noses in their oats, snuffling with pleasure, Buck listened to the rumblings in his own stomach. He was looking forward to Red the Baker and his coffee wagon; he needed some of those fresh, homemade rolls to fortify himself. Night was the easy part, watching out for strangers. It was the coming morning that was going to be hard. That's when he'd have to fend off the reporters and photographers and television crews--people who had flown in from all over the country, from all over the world--the same ones who'd been besieging the barn all week. Sure, Mike would be there, and Dan Williams, too--the guy who rubbed her--but they'd be busy with all the horses. It might be the biggest event at Belmont since Secretariat clinched the Triple Crown, but on the backside it was still another day at the track: Every single horse had to be fed and exercised and hosed down and cooled out. And though all the horses were treated equally, the filly was the focus of attention. Before long, every person who had managed to beg, borrow, or steal a press pass would be trying to get close to her, crawling all over Buck and the stablehands, asking questions, snapping pictures, trying to push in front.
Buck needn't have worried about handling them alone. Long before it was light, long before the first bleary-eyed reporter even thought about aiming a fist at his alarm clock, Frank Whiteley would show up at the barn. Not that there was a damn thing for him to do at four o'clock in the morning. He just wanted to be with the filly.