Born April 17, 1972, out of the sire Reviewer, Ruffian appeared to be a jet black charcoal filly, although her official color was labeled dark bay. She earned the name Queen of the Fillies soon after being voted 2-Year-Old Filly of the Year (Eclipse Award) in 1974. Ruffian raced 11 times in her career and in her first 10 starts, this astounding filly had the lead in every race. She raced distances from as short as 5-and-a-half furlongs to one-and-a-half miles with an average win distance per race of almost nine lengths. In fact, she won her first race (maiden race) in a world record time and by an astounding 15 lengths. I've watched every race this filly ran, and I can tell you that her incredible speed and heart are a true testimonial to what I would call unlimited courage and ability.
Ruffian was owned by Stuart and Barbara Janney, who were also her breeders. Ruffian received multiple honors including her induction into the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame in 1976 and has been rated Number 35 of the Top 100 racehorses of the 20th century. In 1974, she was crowned the U.S. Champion 2-Year-Old Filly and in 1975 she was the U.S. Champion 3-Year-Old Filly. She was the fourth U.S. Triple Tiara Champion. That is the female equivalency of the Triple Crown, which includes the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Though every race she won, in my mind, was considered a major accomplishment with an outstanding performance, some of the most memorable races of Ruffian's career included the Astoria Stakes for 2-year-olds in 1974, the Spinaway Stakes that same year, and as a 3-year-old filly, the Acorn Stakes, the Mother Goose Stakes, and the Coaching Club American Oaks.
Ruffian's fame would eventually become her ruination. She was loved by millions, specifically women who looked at this female racehorse as a liberation for women in the 70s. In her final race, which was run at Belmont Park on July 6, 1975, Ruffian would match up against that year's Kentucky Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure. What was interesting was that Jacinto Vasquez was the normal rider for both of these great horses, but Jacinto made the decision to jockey his favorite horse of all time, Ruffian, clearly believing she was the best between the two horses. The match race, which drew an on-track crowd of over 55,000 horse racing fans and a television audience of almost 20 million (which far exceeds the television audience for the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes or Belmont Stakes in any given recent year), between Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure was created with the idea of attracting new fans to the sport of horse racing by utilizing Ruffian's immense popularity. As it turned out, the match race was not only a tragic disaster for the horse and her connections, but also for the sport of racing.
Without getting into the tragic details of the race, somewhere around three-eighths of a mile into the event, Ruffian broke down by breaking both of her sesamoid bones in her right foreleg. Ruffian was in front of Foolish Pleasure at the time by a little bit more than a head. The filly had to be humanely put down after several efforts and emergency surgery to try to save her.
Horses like Ruffian are once-in-a-lifetime. Every race she completed, she won - and she won with great conviction and a great heart. Everyone knew from the beginning that this filly was something special, loaded with speed, great stamina and just the will to always want to be on top. Ruffian comes from an era of many great champions. The 1970s represent, by far, the greatest racehorses that ever raced in America and probably the world. One only has to think of one other name, Secretariat (who was considered the greatest racehorse of all time) and you can understand why I say that the 1970s brought out the best horses.
It is our intention to soon release the files containing the champion horses of the 70s. These superstar horses really do represent American racing at its best. For three times during the 70s, there were Triple Crown winners, and there's never been another one since. The 70s brought the best in both male and female horses, as well. When you think of American racing and the best of times and, in some cases, the worst of times, you think of the 1970s.