Below is the September 2, 1974 issue of The Blood Horse. On the cover, the great filly Ruffian. She died July 7, 1975, after breaking down in a match race against Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure.
I remember feeling a chill when I saw this cover. I immediately showed it to my husband and said, "Doesn't this look like a sesamoid fracture waiting to happen?" The photo troubled me so much, I kept this magazine, the only one I saved from my one year subscription. I kept looking at those incredibly long pasterns, those delicate legs, delicate even by race horse standards.
Ruffian came by her bones honestly if not fortunately. Her sire, the infamously fragile Reviewer broke down three times during his racing days. Even retirement didn't save him. Only 11, he broke his left hind leg while in his paddock and had to be put down. Ruffian's dam Shenanigans was a daughter of Native Dancer, a wildly superior race horse, but also a horse associated with unsoundness.
Given all this, I was quite worried when the gates flew open for the match race. The details of the attempts to save her still trouble me almost as much as watching this short, non-graphic clip of her breakdown.
About the best thing I can say about the Monday she died was that no one I worked with was surprised. I'd told my co-workers about the difficulty of repairing broken bones in equines before this race.
I'm not against racing. A few accidents will happen, but American race horse breeding is equicidal. We breed horses too delicate to exist with other horses too delicate to exist in order to get even faster horses too delicate to exist. Ruffian was one example. Eight Belles was another. That sweet filly broke both ankles while pulling up after a second place finish in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Unsurprisingly, Eight Belles pedigree was festooned with the name Raise a Native, he by Native Dancer.
Yes, American race horses fly--but too often they fly apart.