Thursday, August 23, 2007
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.