Decades after her death, Ruffian is still remembered as being one of the greatest American Thoroughbred racehorses. She broke down in 1975 during a match race at Belmont Park against that year's Kentucky Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure. In her short life, she ran 11 times and won every race but her last. Ruffian was euthanized after surgery to repair her broken leg failed. Her bloodlines hinted at her possible greatness along with genetic weakness.
Born on Kentucky's Claiborne Farm in 1972, Ruffian was a large, dark bay filly. To the casual observer, she was black. In her maiden race, in 1974, Ruffian tied the track record for 5.5 furlongs while winning by 15 lengths. At Saratoga Racetrack, she broke the track records for 6 furlongs. She did suffer a hairline fracture after her fifth race but came back to race the following year. She won the New York-based Triple Crown for fillies -- the Acorn, the Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks. Then came the match race with Foolish Pleasure. Ruffian's earnings during her two-year career totaled $313,428.
Reviewer and Shenanigans
Ruffian's sire, Reviewer, was a dark bay stallion born in 1966. During his racing career, he earned nearly a quarter-million dollars, winning nine out of 13 starts. He was retired to stud at the age of 4 after repeated cannon bone injuries. Ruffian was one of fillies in his first crop of foals in 1972, since a mare's gestation period is 11 months. He also sired Revidere the following year, who would win the Coaching Club American Oaks and the race named after her tragic half-sibling, the Ruffian Stakes.
Ruffian's dam, Shenanigans, was a grey mare foaled in 1963. Her racing career wasn't notable, as she won only three out of 22 starts. According to her owners, she developed calcium deposits in her knee and retired from racing at age 3 to become a broodmare.
Both of Ruffian's grandsires were among the premier stallions of their era. Reviewer's sire, the dark bay Bold Ruler, sired the most prominent racehorse of the post-war era, Triple Crown winner Secretariat. According to the National Museum of Racing and Thoroughbred Hall of Fame, Bold Ruler led the country's sire list eight times, second only to the 19th century stallion Lexington. In 1966, he was the first stallion whose offspring earnings exceeded $2 million in a season. His progeny also set a record from 1964-70, earning more than a million dollars each year.
Shenanigan's sire was the grey Native Dancer. He ran 22 times, winning all but one race and coming in second in that instance. Among his most prominent offspring were Raise a Native, also a champion sire, and Natalma, the dam of another great racehorse, Northern Dancer.
Ruffians descended from the Irish Thoroughbred Nasrullah, the sire of Bold Ruler. This prolific stallion's descendants include Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew; Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Nashua; Never Bend and Mill Reef. "Nasrullah supplied a new source of speed to the North American racehorse," after he began stud duties in American in 1951, notes Bloodhorse.com's David Schmitz. Nasrullah himself was sired by Nearco, considered by some to be the greatest horse of the prewar era as both racehorse and sire.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.