A Race Day Tragedy - Could Ruffian Have Been Saved [Video]
 By Unbridled Sakia   •   20th Jul 2013   •   7,573 views   •   5 comments
Ruffian A Race Day TragedyRuffian is the best-known filly in the race industry from the 1970s. She completely changed the way people saw racing safety for the horses as well as the riders. Some say she could have been saved but others think it was more humane to euthanize her. The “Queen of Racing” she was called; the “Filly of the Century”. She had every race fan on the edge of their seat, cheering, whether they wanted to or not. You couldn't help but hail her feminine beauty on the track. She changed the face of horse racing by being the first horse to ever-and still is to this day-be buried at Belmont park, by fueling a type of “Battle of the Sexes” [3], and by giving up her life for the sport.

Article: Ruffian - The World's Greatest Filly

Ruffian’s fame was at it’s highest point when the match race against Foolish Pleasure was announced. The nation was elated by the thought of having what was said the “Queen of the Fillies” go up against the Kentucky Derby winner. Everyone chose a side. It was male versus female. Both sides wanted to prove they were better. There were pins, shirts, flags and many other merchandise portraying the male and female symbolism of the match race. An estimate of 18 million people watched the race on CBS-TV [4] along with a track crowd of 50,000 [3]. Ruffian’s career winnings totaled $313,428 [5]. Up until the match race she’d had 10 starts with 10 wins.

The filly’s injury on the track stunned every viewer. No one was ready for the shock of losing the female superstar of racing. It all began when she came out of the starting gate. She ran her shoulder into the starting gate giving her a late start. The force cracked both of her sesamoid bones in her right front leg and as she ran on the bones shattered. The first veterinarian to reach her was Dr. Manual Gilman. He had been a racetrack veterinarian for 31 years in New York. He said,

“She had been going so fast and was so full of herself-she was in the race of her life-that she kept running on the fracture, grinding, grinding, grinding, the bones. It was an unbelievable injury. The ligaments were shattered. The bones were like pieces of glass.”

The momentum she had gained caused her to continue for another 40 yards bringing her 1,125 pounds down with every step onto her broken ankle. When the ambulance pulled up Dr. Gilman put an air boot on her temporarily to hold the shattered bones and stop the bleeding. She was transported from the track to her stall in Barn 34. It was chaos in the stall as they tried to help her. Everyone was trying to get in on the action; crowding the barn. Ruffian was so panicked and in shock when she was moved to a animal hospital outside of Belmont. She seemed to calm down on her way to the hospital after administering a tranquilizer to her. The veterinarians had to bring her back twice from what would be called a medical death. Dr. Harthill-the doctor taking care of Ruffian at the hospital- told her owners that her chance of survival was not better than 10%. Ruffian’s severe dehydration was causing her blood to become like mud. Her heart was beating at 76 beats per minute to keep it moving. The normal heart rate for a horse is 36. Even through the surgery her heart rate never came down. She was already in critical condition when the surgery began. The break itself wasn't so bad; it was the infection. The filth and sand from the track had been jammed into the wound.

“You have to pick a method and stick with it. There are always four or five ways of doing things. Our method was to put her to sleep and clean out the wound. it took half an hour-more-just to clean it, flush out the filth, put in a drain and stitch it up. If the fracture hadn't been compound, we could’ve put a cast on it in her stall and she would have been O.K. The break itself was so severe that she couldn't survive.” Said Dr. Gilman.

Gangrene would have set in if the wound was left dirty. It would have meant amputation of the hoof. A horse called Spanish Riddle had his hoof amputated but it would not work on Ruffian because, “Spanish Riddle’s case was one in a million. Ruffian would have killed herself flailing about if we had amputated.” stated Dr. Gilman. The surgery was not a hard one with only having to clean the wound, removing some bone chips, and installing a drain. They then had to use a brace to stabilize her leg. The brace had padded steel supports and padded metal clamps that would be fitted to her leg. The brace was covered in a plaster cast. All together it weighed seven to ten pounds. When the cast was finished she was moved to a recovery stall near the operating table. “Well, she lay there for about an hour and 15 or 20 minutes. At this point she started a mild struggling period, which is to expected. This happens to all horses after anesthesia. In between these sessions her body was rubbed with alcohol, in an effort to increase circulation and to rejuvenate the muscles which had become toxic from laying for so long and from the accumulation of waste products... The struggle became more violent. We had several men trying to hold her, and she threw us around like rag dolls. We could not hold her down.” Dr. Harthill said in his taped recollection. It was said that while she was thrashing around she was trying to keep running her race. This just proves her heart belonged to the sport. She didn't want to give it up [4].

Ruffian was buried at Belmont park under the infield flagpole, her nose pointing toward the finish line. Flowers were laid around her grave stone as well as a blanket of roses hang above it. She was honored with flags being flown at half mast. She is the only horse to ever be entombed at Belmont. There is a memorial to Ruffian also in Masterson Station Park. It is a grave stone stating the words,

“We were young when she died, too young to number her with the greats of other eras. Yet to love, grand and, perfection is ours because we are human, and none felt her loss more painfully than we. The Children of Lexington-1975”

Ruffian was very popular with the Kentuckians. They wanted to immortalize her. The Kentuckians were going to raise $200,000 for Ruffian to be returned to her home in Kentucky and to have a permanent memorial built. This is very similar to what they did with Man O’ War. He was buried beneath a $50,000 bronze statue.

All things considered Ruffian is a true athlete. She just wanted to run but she ran herself to death I would say. The controversy surrounding her having to be destroyed is still great. Could she have been saved? That is for you to decide. Ruffian changed racing forever, the Boy vs. Girl battle fueled by her, her devotion to the sport, and her memorial at Belmont.

Works Cited
1. Smith, Eugene R. "Ruffian: The Heartbreaking Career of the Greatest Filly- and Perhaps the Greatest Horse." Biography in Context. N.p., Sept. 1993. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.
2. "Ruffian." Racing Museum. N.p., 2000. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
3. Moss, Randy. "Ruffian Remembered." ESPN. ESPN, 5 June 2007. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
4. Johnson, William O. "Could She Have Been Saved?" After Ruffian's Death Came the Questions. Could Surgery. N.p., 21 July 1997. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
5. "Ruffian." PRX. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
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PonyBox  MOD 
I think they did the right thing. Unfortunately these types of injuries usually don't result in a good quality of life for the horse post surgery.

Love it or hate it but it's part of the sport.

Ruffian Rules!
  Jul 20, 2013  •  8,694 views
PonyBox  MOD 
Great read! You obviously put a lot of research into this.
  Jul 21, 2013  •  9,275 views
She was never sound in the first place, from an unsound dam and by a crazy sire. The thrashing is what did her in though, as you failed to mention she hurt herself further and that was when it was given up.
  Jul 22, 2013  •  9,055 views
I think anyone who said they could have saved her was mad, a thoroughbred is far too highly strung to recover from such a tragic injury. What an excellent mare.
On a side note: I realise that all these years I've been saying her name wrong...
  Jul 22, 2013  •  8,939 views
That video made meh cry :(
  Aug 13, 2013  •  8,361 views
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