Photo: the real Ruffian, circa 1976.
In July 1976 I was eighteen and preparing to leave home. In August I would join The Re’Generation for a year-long tour, so I wasn’t thinking much about television, national sports, or world events. So I missed something that would have broken my heart had I paid it any attention.
Last night I watched RUFFIAN on DVD, a movie produced by ESPN. And even though I knew what was coming (the movie summary told me that the horse broke her leg in a match race in July 1976), I experienced the single most upsetting moment I have EVER seen on film–made so much worse because I knew it was true.
When I saw that piece of footage, I–well, I’m not sure what the word is: yelped, sobbed, screamed–sort of a combination of all three, and then I sat there sobbing noisily for the next ten minutes of the movie. I kid you not, it’s a good thing I wasn’t in a theater–they’d have asked me to leave.
Afterward, I looked up Ruffian on the web, and found actual footage of that tragic race on youtube.com. Fortunately, the actual footage, shot from a distance, isn’t nearly as graphic as what you see in the movie. But I went to bed last night with swollen eyes, a red nose, and a spongy brain.
The true tragedy is that Ruffian didn’t have to race against FOOLISH PLEASURE. It was a race designed for the media and the business, and had nothing to do with establishing Ruffian as the finest filly of that year–and probably of all time.
I’m not even sure I can recommend the movie. I’m glad I saw it, but it was a heart breaker. I can recommend the performances of everyone who performed in the movie, especially Sam Shepherd. And the real Ruffian, who is featured in footage at the end.
I’m still getting teary-eyed every time I think about it, and I’ve just ordered a book on Ruffian from Amazon.com. Maybe it’s my childhood attachment to BLACK BEAUTY, but I just can’t let this one go.