Letter To The Editor: One Ruffian Fan Thanks Claiborne, NYRA For Bringing Her Home - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Letter To The Editor: One Ruffian Fan Thanks Claiborne, NYRA For Bringing Her Home

Ruffian in the 1975 Acorn Stakes.

As a lifelong racing fan and horse lover, I cannot say thank you enough to the Janney family, the New York Racing Association, and the Hancock family of Claiborne Farm for making sure the remains of Ruffian, the greatest filly in racing, will be preserved for all time.

The video shared by Claiborne Farm of Ruffian's exhumation, with the sight of the red Locust Hill Farm blanket peeking out from the dirt surrounding Ruffian's body after decades in the earth at the base of Belmont Park's flagpole, and reburial at Claiborne, with the lonely figure of the man at the precipice of the newly-dug grave, respectfully guiding the coffin held aloft by the crane, all with the song “I'm Coming Home” narrating the images, brought me to tears. Fresh tears for the horse that meant so much to me when I was a child.

I have loved horses ever since I was a tiny child and knew what they were. The first Kentucky Derby I ever saw was 1969 and the gorgeous Majestic Prince. I remember my sister being upset with me when the next day, when our dad bought the Sunday paper and Majestic Prince's picture was on the front page, I called dibs on it before she did. That set me on a path of loving racing and the glorious horses and history that make it such a sport of beauty and emotion.

During the last 55 years, I have fallen in love with certain horses; horses, who by their beauty, talent and personalities, just captivated me. Majestic Prince was the first. then came Hoist the Flag, Secretariat, Forego, Easy Goer, Personal Ensign, My Flag, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Malathaat, Nest, and Elate. Not that I didn't love champions like Affirmed, Seattle Slew, or John Henry, to name a few. But the ones I listed were just ultra magical for me.

Included in that ultra-magical list for me is Ruffian.

I was 12 and 13 when Ruffian captured not only my imagination, but thousands and thousands of other horse lovers, too. She was compared to Walter Farley's The Black Stallion, but I always thought of Ruffian as the stallion's free-running daughter, Black Minx.

Back then, there was no FanDuel TV or Fox Sports or internet. I could not watch her races on TV. But I could sure collect every newspaper clipping and magazine article I could on her. It was even better because my father worked as a professor in the School of Journalism at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, and I could raid the sports sections of dozens of newspapers from across the country to add to my Ruffian clipping collection. I was so excited for the match race–and the fact that finally, one of her races would be on TV. I was delivering my Sunday papers that morning–of course helping myself to the sports section. I thought I would never get done with my route that morning.

I was so excited to actually see Ruffian moving in color on the television. If anything, I fell in love with her even more than I already was. I was engrossed when the race started, and she gradually pulled ahead. I knew she was going to win. But then she fell back, and I heard those awful words that she had broken down. My excited yelling for her as she was in the lead turned to screams of horror and tears that my father and sister tried to stem as they held me.

I remained glued to the TV until late into the night, anxiously waiting, like millions of others around the world, of news of how her surgery was going. I stayed up until I finally could not keep my eyes open. The next morning, my sister gently told me, “She didn't make it.” I cried and cried. My clippings were put away, they were too painful to look at. Eventually they were lost during our move back to Wisconsin. But I always loved Ruffian and never forgot her. When I turned 30, my father bought me a copy of Jane Schwartz's book Ruffian, Burning from the Start. He wrote my name and a birthday greeting in it in his beautiful handwriting. Since he died only six months after my wedding, I have treasured that book.

When my husband and I took a trip to Belmont Park in 1999 to see the Belmont Stakes and a chance to see Charismatic win the Triple Crown, I remember asking a security guard if it was possible to see Ruffian's grave after the day's racing was over, only to be given a firm but gentle “No.”

When the NYRA announced their construction project, my thoughts went immediately to Ruffian and what might happen to her grave. I should have known that Claiborne Farm would play a central role in rescuing her remains. I have never failed to visit Claiborne Farm on my travels to Kentucky, ever since my first trip while I was in college in 1985, when a groom took me to see Round Table when I asked if he was still alive, and many years later, when my husband and I made a visit on our honeymoon. Claiborne is my favorite place to visit, the peaceful serenity, the kindness to all who come, and the reverence for the horses. It is right to have Ruffian home at Claiborne and resting in such glorious company.

Thank you also to Old Friends for giving courageous Timely Writer a perpetual resting place. The work done by the NYRA, the Janney family, the Hancock family, and Old Friends serves to illustrate that horse racing, which has suffered from some severe troubles in the last several years, is in reality, blessed with individuals who love the horses and understand their magnetic pull on the hearts of fans. For a horse lover like me, it means so much.

Elizabeth Martiniak
Janesville, Wisconsin

If you would like to submit a letter to the editor, please write to info at paulickreport.com and include contact information where you may be reached if editorial staff have any questions.

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