Manes and Tails Organization



'Ruffian'aka 'Sophie'

Listen to a song about'Ruffian' by Gerry Luckacik

'Remember Ruffian' Memorabilia


The Destruction of a Masterpiece

Her barnname was 'Sophie' however, we knew her as 'Ruffian.' She wasmagnificent in every way. Everyone who saw the match race between'Ruffian' and 'Foolish Pleasure' agreed that she would have won therace had she not splintered her sesamoid bones. She kept running on herdangling hoof as her jockey, Jacinto Vasquez, struggled to pull her toa stop. The tragic end of her life occurred after 12 hours of surgery;when she awoke from the anesthetic she was disoriented and panicked andthrashed her cast off, and in process broke her other leg. Ruffian wasrevived twice during surgery and her surgeons knew she would notsurvive further attempts to repair both broken legs. Ruffian waseuthanized and is buried in the infield at Belmont Park with her nosepointed towards the finish line.

Jack Whitaker, the host of the live CBS broadcast of the race in 1975,offered this view: "Nothing can take away the horror of seeing a horsebreak down. It's like seeing a masterpiece destroyed." Many people whoare unfamiliar with Thoroughbreds are not aware as to why the youngfillies and colts carry so little weight. Jockeys are light and shortand this is necessary as the plates in the young horses' legs are notyet fully fused. Galloping at speeds up to 45 mph on immature bones,which during the gallop, causes each leg individually to absorb theconcussion from the ground as well as the full body weight of the horseuntil it becomes airborne. This often results in broken legs andeuthanasia. Many of these cases the public does not hear about as oftenthe horses break down while training at the track. Their owners andtrainers had hope for their careers, but these horses remain foreverunknown. The lucky ones are put back together and go maybe to newnon-racing owners or rescue organizations in search of adopters. Thereis a separate area of the track where the dead go to be disposed. Isthe horse's breeding a determining factor in his or her tendency tobreak down?

Track horses are a challenge to transition to other equestrian arts.They are fabulous athletes and excel at Hunting, Jumping,Steeplechasing, and Dressage to name but a few. What is not generallyknown - unless you are a careful breeder of Thoroughbreds - is how the'Reines-de-Course' is a determining factor in the overall success aThoroughbred will attain both on and off the track.

(The Queens of the Turf)

The Reines-de-Course ("Queens of the Turf")series was created by Ellen Parker in 1991 as a guide to influentialfemale Thoroughbred mares and their families that could be utilized toimprove the breed. Parker's extensive pedigree research has confirmedher theory that the mare has more influence on the success of a horseat the track, and overall in life. Despite the fact that Ruffian's dam(Shenanigans) was a 'Reine' descended from a long line of 'Reines,'Parker believes that Ruffian is a striking example of choosingbloodlines that, despite her moments of greatness, did nothing morethan produce an accident waiting to happen. 

Parker writes in her '
Pedlines'series about Ruffian:

"Was there ever anyone who saw the streak of black lightning known asRuffian who did not love her? We think not. Nature seemed to know thatthere should never be another; her dam was barren to Reviewer when bredback to him.

Along with Ruffian’s greatness came great tragedy, of course.Some of it was man-made. She really did not need to run in a match raceto prove her mettle. The race destroyed what should have been apromising stud career for Foolish Pleasure, as well, for there was an(idiotic) prejudice against him for ’winning’ therace after Ruffian broke down.

Twenty-twenty hindsight is a great thing, but there was most definitelysome hint of what was to come when one considers that her sire Reviewerbroke down three different times, and that her grandsire Native Dancerran only 22 times at a time when horses routinely raced 40 and 50times. We know now that it is Native Dancer whose bloodline is largelyresponsible for the fix we find ourselves in with the fragile modernThoroughbred.

Reviewer’s entire female family, the Flitabout clan, hasconsistently thrown soft horses. Nothing was ever as bad as Reviewer,but Seeking the Gold, however gifted he may be as a progenitor, is justplain brittle. The family is trouble and it gets much of that troublefrom Challenger II who appeared to throw a recessive soundness probleminherited from his paternal grandsire John O’Gaunt, and themare Traverse. Traverse may be a purveyor of the so-called large heartgene, but if the legs cannot hold up the heart, it ends badly. Traversecould last only four starts and won not a one of them. Challenger IIwon his only two starts in Europe but failed to find thewinner’s circle in eight U. S. efforts.

History tells us that Swynford’s sire line, even via a sireas well bred as Challenger II, was never very tough. Blandford, whichwas often used as an example of horrid forelegs, fared better in largepart due to the Aga Khan’s use of him via *Blenheim II who inturn got *Mahmoud. Though *Mahmoud’s sire line is pretty wellrun out, any number of good horses, especially Halo sons, are likely tobe inbred to him as he is a source of sound speed.

Ruffian’s bottom line also gives us more clues as to hereventual downfall. Traverse appears again and Ruffian is inbred to hervia full siblings Traffic/Transmute on a 5 x 4 cross. The two unsoundelements of Challenger II and Native Dancer also have something incommon. Challenger II and Sickle’s dam Selene are veryclosely related. They are sired by half brothers Swynford and Chaucerand Challenger II’s broodmare sire Great Sport is a halfbrother to Selene’s dam Serenissima. This combination makesfor a four-way cross of Pilgrimage (Canterbury Pilgrim x2/Loved One x2).

These explosive inbreeding combinations were both good and bad. And thebottom line of what Ruffian teaches us is the very basic truth thatwhile inbreeding to great families (in her case Traverse andPilgrimage) may strengthen a pedigree, attention must be paid to theindividuals one is using for inbreeding. And that is where the ball wasdropped.

Reviewer, let’s face it, should never have gone to stud. Hewas an accident waiting to happen. Shenanigans was a decent runner andfrom a good family, but you don’t cross Native Dancer on ahorse like Reviewer. That is putting a match to the fire.

Sadly, it is Ruffian who paid the price. And as we know, those who donot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Nature has taken careof Reviewer for us; his bloodline is almost gone.

But in Seeking the Gold we have a horse who mixes the Bird Flowerfamily with Native Dancer. No Reviewer blood is present, but threequarters of the formula is still there. And it’s stillflammable. One of his stakes winners is a horse called Secret Savingswhose second dam is by Reviewer! This ticking time bomb went toAustralia to race thank heavens; we have enough soft bone in the U. S.already.

Keep in mind that Seeking the Gold has been bred to the very best maresin the world - they have a CI of 3.98! Mares who produce his foals willhave the luxury of having their youngsters go to the very besttrainers. If one of these individuals shows a minor problem, thefillies may be retired unraced since their catalogue pages will readwell. If they are colts, they generally do best in Europe (DubaiMillennium, Lujain) where the going is softer and protects theirfragile underpinnings. The only good thing about him at this point isthat most of his best runners are fillies. His’best’ son, Dubai Millennium, died young. With alittle luck, not too many of his sons will go to stud and we will onlyhave to worry about breeding around his daughters.

We all loved Ruffian and if there is any way to preserve her memory(other than banning match races), it is to consider what her pedigreeteaches us. By all means, inbreed to great families. This is apriceless tool and one of the main reasons we publish Pedlines. Butdon’t inbreed mindlessly. You are creating a living thing.

Wouldn’t you rather have an inbred like Seattle Slew thanRuffian? Both had intriguing pedigrees, but the individuals used inSlew’s pedigree had the right kind of toughness needed tosupport the final result. So think before you sign that stallioncontract or accept that mare into your stallion’s book.We’d love to see another Seattle Slew, but it would break ourhearts to see another Ruffian."


Ms. Parker's lesson here is that much research into pedigrees must bedone before deciding to breed a thoroughbred. 'Ruffian' was stellar inlife, and through Ms. Parker, her legacy is not just the tragic loss ofher life -- it is what she had to show us about breeding.



Born: April 17, 1972 at Claiborne Farm, Paris KY
Died: July 7, 1975 (age 3) at a veterinary hospital adjacent to BelmontPark, buried near the flagpole at Belmont.


Ruffian, br. f.
foaled 1972
Reviewer, 1966 Bold Ruler, 1954 *Nasrullah
Broadway,1959 HastyRoad
Shenanigans,1963 NativeDancer, 1950 Polynesian
BoldIrish, 1948 FightingFox

(Female Family # 8c)

Racing Record:


Year Age Starts 1st 2nd 3rd unp. earnings
1974 2 5 5 0 0 0 $134,073
1975 3 6 5 0 0 1 179,335
total   11 10 0 0 1 $313,408

Link toFull Pedigree



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