She was one of the best mares ever and The Blood Horse ranked her among the top U.S. racehorses of the 20th century. There was even a film about her, made in 2007, called Ruffian.
Ruffian was lovely to look at (16'2) and tall like Zenyatta; she was foaled at Claiborne Farm and was sired by the Phipps' family's Bold Ruler stallion (the same line as Secretariat). She was out of the Native Dancer mare, Shenanigans.
Her short career was filled with awards: the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Two-Year-Old Filly in 1974 and winning the Filly Triple Crown in 1975. She was undefeated in her first 10 races with an average winning margin of 8 1/3 lengths. She was on the lead at every point of call in every race she ever ran. She set a new stakes record in each of the 8 stakes races which she won. She equaled two track records. All but one of Ruffian's track records remain unbroken. The one that was broken was recently beaten by Rachel Alexandra in 2009.
She was also stoic. She won the Sorority Stakes (setting a new stakes record) on a freshly popped splint which is not a serious injury but nonetheless painful. She won the Spinaway in a track record but the morning after the race it was discovered that she had not eaten her food. She had a hairline fracture on her hind leg.
Ruffian's final race was run at Belmont on July 6, 1975. It was a much anticipated match race between Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure, the winner of the 1975 Kentucky Derby. Coincidentally, Jacinto Vasquez was the jockey for both horses but he chose to ride Ruffian as he believed she was the better horse.
The race was attended by 50,000 and was seen on television by 20 million. I remember it well. It was something that you wish you could forget. Ruffian hit her shoulder on the starting gate coming out. At the first quarter mile she was ahead by a nose. About a furlong later she was in front by a half length when both sesamoid bones in her right foreleg snapped. Vasquez tried to pull her up but she would have nothing of it. She kept running until her bones were like soup. She tore the ligaments so that her hoof was flopping. She wanted to finish.
Needless the say, the filly could not be saved. She was operated on but Ruffian was not a good patient and thrashed wildly in her stall when she came out of the operation, tearing off casts, bandages, ripping open her leg again. She had to be put down immediately.
Leroy Jolley, Foolish Pleasure's trainer has said that he anticipated that Ruffian would beat Foolish Pleasure that day. Her times/splits were better than his and no other horse had ever been allowed to pass her.
The lovely mare is buried at Belmont Park, a fitting place for a horse that truly wanted to be the winner every time out, no matter what.
In 1975 Ruffian was posthumously awarded the 1975 Eclipse Award for the Outstanding Three-Year-Old Filly. In 1976 she was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Sports Illustrated included her as the only non-human on their list of the top 100 female athletes of the century, ranking her 53rd.
Lucien Lauren, Secretariat's trainer said, "As God as my witness, she may even be better than Secretariat." We will never know.