July 2009 Story Contest

Thoroughbred Legend: Ruffian by Esrellene & Eloquence         age 12
Characters: Ruffian- a striking black, Queen of the fillies. Poetry in motion.
                      Foolish Pleasure- Bay colt. Had a lot of heart. Winner of Kentucky Derby.
Other: Inspired by 1975 match race at Belmont Park between colt and filly.
My name is Ruffian. On the track I flew, effortlessly leading the pack wire-to-wire in every race. Now I am nothing more than a legend; one of those stories grooms tell in the backstretch barns. I could have raced longer, swept more stakes races, or won more trophies. I didn’t. Because that single race ended it all; the fame, the glory, and my life.
I remember the day quite clearly. The July sun hung over the Belmont track, casting long afternoon shadows across the dirt. It was an unusually cool day, yet the stands were overflowing. They had come for the Great Match; a race between filly and colt, Foolish Pleasure and I.
The first sight of him I had was in the saddling stalls. He stood calmly beside me, which was unusual for a colt. Most of them danced about, resisting the bit and stepping on the grooms’ feet. Pleasure was different. He knew the importance of this race, and he was ready to win.
Not on my track he wouldn’t. Belmont was where I had won the Triple Tiara, and where I had blazed to a 15-length victory in my first race. No. This win would be mine.
We moved off into the paddock. That was when I got a real look at him. His coat gleamed and the muscles in his powerful hind legs rippled with every step he took. The bay colt looked every hand a Derby champion.
A fire of confidence and determination burned in his eyes. He wanted this win as much as I did.
The bugle call blared in my ears as we headed for the tunnel. I caught a glimpse of the track as we were swallowed by the dim light.
The moment I set hoof on the packed dirt I was ready to run. I gazed about at the crowd with the air of a queen assessing her subjects.
I gave the usual post-parade performance, cantering smoothly with head high and ears perked.
It was post time. I walked confidently toward the gates and loaded into the first stall. Pleasure was in now. My hind legs tensed as I focused on leaping cleanly from the gates.
The sound of the bell mingled with the cheers of the crowd, creating a dull roar in my ears. I did not get a good start. My flank smashed hard against the side of the stall. I stumbled, fearing I was going to fall.
Somehow, I regained my balance and thundered down the track to catch Pleasure.
My stride was graceful; my body moving with the lithe ease of a cats’ as I glided toward him. The gap between us was closing rapidly now. My nose was at his wind-whipped tail. His flank. His neck. I was in front!
But the colt was not going to give up that easily. He matched my pace, and we galloped together, side-by-side around the turn, neither able to break free.
As we came onto the backstretch, I began to pull away. I was half a length in front when it happened. The birds flew up in a flurry of wings and feathers. A branch snapped. No. Not a branch. Bone. My ankle had shattered.
I sagged against Pleasure, struggling to keep up as my injured ankle sank into the dirt. Blood ran onto the track, staining it a deep red.
The colt continued to run on. The pain was too much. I allowed myself to be led to the edge of the track.
A large crowd rushed toward us. An ambulance pulled up along the hedge.
I was still running, still fighting to catch Pleasure as the vets and attendants fitted a support cast to my leg.  I heard sobs and gasps from the crowd as I limped up the ramp. He...he had won!
I do not remember much after that. I awoke, confused in a strange room. The colt was pulling away! I galloped after him as I lay on the hard floor.
The thrashing caused my ankle to bleed again. The cast slid off and my elbow smashed against the concrete.  But the pain didn’t matter because I was catching up to Pleasure. It didn’t matter because I doing what my breeding told me to. I was running.
The door closed and the sound of approaching footsteps reached my ears. All I could see was the track before me; I was blind to the fatal injection in my neck.
Suddenly the track began to fade and my gallop slowed to a canter. I couldn’t fly; couldn’t push myself to reach him as he crossed the wire. My breathing slowed, then stopped altogether. It was over. The racing world had lost another champion.
I am buried beside the flagpole at Belmont Park, with my nose pointed toward the finish line. For I had died on the lead. Though I shall never run again, my story still gallops on.

For Ruffian, 1972-1975, the greatest filly to ever set hoof on the track.