When Guilty Becomes Foolish
By ice rivers
Raised Catholic, I came to believe that all pleasures were guilty therefore guilt itself was a pleasure. My life was full of pleasure...full of guilt.
Foolish I admit
Which leads me to Foolish Pleasure
Which leads me to Ruffian
Which takes me back to 1975
To Belmont Park
With Wild Bill.
And the height of bachelorhood.
Foolish Pleasure was a great three year old bay. Pleasure had won the Kentucky Deby and come in second at the Preakness and the Stakes. Even though it was a standout season for The Fool, it left some folks disappointed that he wasn't able to win the Triple Crown....he was the favorite in all three races.
Meanwhile another three year old bay,a filly ran 10 races against other fillys and won them all, wire to wire, never giving up a lead. Ahead all the way. Never any dirt in her face.
So here we had the greatest filly of all time and a damned good male Derby winner. Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure.
Somebody said "let's see which one is better"
Somebody else said "Let's find out at Belmont."
A match race was put on the calendar.
July 7, 1975
I decided to make the trip from upstate to New York to Belmont...a trip of about 400 miles. Before I left, I called Wild Bill to see if he had any interest in going to the race. Did Rose Kennedy own a black dress? Of course he wanted to go.
We met at the racetrack. We threw down a twelve pack in the parking lot. We were well lubricated and ready to roar along with another 50,000 folks when we finally entered the Park.
There were more women at Belmont that day than I had ever seen at a race track. Many of them were wearing buttons with a picture of Ruffian emblazoned with the word HER. Gotta admit, they kinda classed up the joint
Naturally Bill and I picked up similar buttons only picture of Foolish Pleasure instead of Ruffian and with HIM instead of her.
Feminism was settling in and this race was taking on a metaphoric, symbolic meaning.
We flirted with the girls. We took the chauvinist stance tongue through cheek.
"So this is the best you got? This is your best ever? The Fool ain't our best. He's just one of the boys. He ain't no Secretariat. He's just a fool. And he's gonna beat your best with no problem."
The blonde in the bonnett spoke for most of the women in the crowd when she said "You guys are full of shit. All you men are full of shit. You're gonna find out today."
Everybody was laughing and bullshitting with each other. I was a very pleasurable afternoon. Everybody in a good mood. The governor was there. Pat Summerall was there. 2o million people were tuned in on ABC.
We made our way down to the saddling area. Foolish Pleasure entered first. He was an impressive looking horse, not like Secretariat but handsome in his own bay way.
He walked around the paddock area as if he didn't have a care in the world.
And then came Ruffian.....
I'd seen Secretariat in the same location. Secretariat was chestnut and looked like a horse. He looked more like a horse than any horse I've ever seen. He was the model for all horses to be compared with and he was incomparable.
And then came Ruffian. Ruffian was huge and pissed off. She stomped through the paddock as if she owned not only the paddock but the barn, the Park and New York city itself. She was shimmering black in color. Bay is too gentle a words. If Secretaritat was a force of nature, Ruffian was a force of supernature with fury in her eyes and fire in her nostrils.Ruffian was fearsome and intimidating and once again...HUGE. Much more physically and metaphysically imposing than Foolish Pleasure.
I could imagine riding Secretariat. I didn't hink he's mind same way with Foolish Pleasure. No way with Ruffian. If you've ever been out in a pasure on a dark starry night trying to lead a thoroughbred back into the barn, it can be frightening if you ain't a cowboy. Just thinking of Ruffian in the pasture in the moonlight was almost too much for my imagination.....
What would happen if Secretariat and Ruffian mated?
The possibilities were infinite but first there was the matter of the race.
They saddled up and headed through the tunnel to the track.
That moment of silence as horses travel to the track is one of my favorite memories. People in the saddling area have just had a close look and are still buzzing about the impressions as the horses enter that tunnel. There is aminute of silence as the horses pass through the tunnel before they emerge.
That's when the roar starts and the roar continues and grows while the orchestra plays The Sidewalks of New York.
East Side West Side All Around the Town.
Time to get to the stands.
Bill knows how to move in a crowd and so do I.
We dance with it instead of moving against it.
Somehow we were able to manuever ourselves to the rail very close to the starting gate.
They loaded the horses in. We got a good look at the load. They lifted the gate. Ruffian still breathing fire brushed her shoulder against the side of the gate but the start was clean and they were off.
Ruffian had never been behind. We expected her to take an immediate lead and hope that Pleasure could make a stretch run. The brushed shoulder might have affected her tining a little.
The Fool matched her stride for stride for the first hundred yards and as they headed side by side into the far turn, Ruffian had finally got a nose in front. All of us were waiting for the explosion.
We got two explosions at once.
It was the Fool who made the big move.
He blasted past Ruffian with a Secretariat like burst of energy and he left Ruffian in the dust. Everybody was watching the Fool as his lead increased and it became clear that he would win.
Then when with the race decided, the crwod began to look back to find Ruffian. Ruffian was stopped in her tracks. As she had tried to pull away from FP at the turn, her leg had snapped and exploded. Her jockey tried to stop her but with that magnificent heart...Ruffian continued to race on with her shattered leg until she compounded the damage.
They brought the ambulance out and loaded the defeated bay. Surgeons operated on Ruffian right there at Belmont but during the surgery itself under enough drugs to knock out a horses,she attempted to run while still on the table.
Of course none of us in the Park knew about the operation. All we knew was that the Fool had "won" the race and that Ruffian was badly, badly hurt.
All the joy
All the camaradarie
All the adrenaline
As did the pleasure
As it was replaced once again by guilt.
It was as if we had been to a bull fight watching he mrvelous bull being tortured and murdered before our eyes.
What kind of sport was horse racing anyways.
Bill and I didn't talk much about the race as we made our way to Babylon. We knew we had witnessed something that we wished that we hadn't but was significant in our continued bonding as friends.
Back at the track they put Ruffian to sleep.
They buried her in Belmont Park the next day with her nose pointed towards the finish line.
Foolish and Guilty.