William Nack’s Ruffian – A Racetrack Romance was an excellent follow up to Jane Schwartz’s Ruffian – Burning from the Start as it took on a slightly different perspective. Schwartz focused on straight history: Ruffian’s lineage, her training, and each race. Nack, however, focused on his personal experiences while covering the filly’s career.
If William Nack sounds familiar, it’s because he authored the exceptional Secretariat. Given this, and his background as a sportswriter who covered horseracing extensively for decades, I knew I was in for a treat with this memoir about my beloved Ruffian. He did not disappoint.
I’m glad I read these two books in the order I did as I liked knowing Ruffian’s complete background first. While Nack does a great job filling in some gaps, he does not delve too deep into Ruffian’s training, her connections, or her races. But what he does is give his readers that insider’s look into life during this golden age of racing; Secretariat had just been retired when Ruffian stepped on the scene, and race fans had so much to keep them entertained.
This book further cemented my love for the big, black filly, and, like I mentioned in this earlier blog post, I really hope to visit her grave at Belmont Park sometime soon. While one of my favorite passages is below, this book is beautifully written throughout, a true love story dedicated to a filly who forever left her mark in racing history.
“Undefeated in ten starts, in front at every pole in every race in which she ever ran, Ruffian was more than just another transient champion passing through. She was of a certain singularity that hinted of origins almost divine. Even today, more than three decades later, I can still close my eyes and see her out there running on the lead, always on the lead, her black silhouette in full flight, free running as a child on a playground, five lengths in front, her clipped mane swept back and her tail rippling like a little flag, her swan’s neck rising and dipping to the tom-tom beating of her hooves, nine in front and widening, her jockey sitting quiet as a piece of marble statuary on her long back, his little hands motionless, his body rocking wavelike to the hitchless rhythms of her stride, the filly pricking her ears forward and picking up the tempo once again, now fourteen in front and coasting, everything so effortless, the jockey’s silks billowing along his shoulders and back, now fifteen in front, expanding toward us on the turn for home, sailing into our lives and our history as if upon an upward draft of wind.”
(“Ruffian with Groom” painting below is by Anthony M. Alonso. More of his work can be found here).