Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.


-George Santayana, 1863–1953, American philosopher


Never in the history of the Kentucky Derby has the jockey on the winning horse deserted his mount for another entry in the Preakness.   But there is an eerie precedent for a jockey choosing to ride a filly over a Kentucky Derby-winning colt when the jockey was the regular rider of both…and the precedent is a cause for concern–a red flag–for everyone who cares about animal welfare and racing’s image among the general public.

Jacinto Vasquez was the regular rider of Foolish Pleasure, who won the 1975 Kentucky Derby and ran second in the Preakness and the Belmont.  Vasquez was also the rider of the great but starcrossed filly Ruffian.   Like Calvin Borel in 2009, when Vasquez was forced to choose between riding a Kentucky Derby winner and piloting an exceptional filly, he elected to ride the filly.

On July 6, 1975, a match race was run between Foolish Pleasure and Ruffian.   It was the heretofore undefeated Ruffian’s eleventh career race.   As 50,000 fans watched at Belmont Park and millions more tuned in on television, Ruffian broke both seasmoid bones in her right foreleg during the race and she had to be euthanized following surgery.

A hue and cry about the inhumane treatment of racehorses ensued as racing’s “Battle of the Sexes” morphed into a public relations nightmare.   Many people asked why it was necessary for Ruffian to take on Foolish Pleasure to prove her merit.   The race, in fact, was an equine version of a male vs. female tennis match in 1973 between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, which had attracted a huge television audience. In that denouement, King routed the braggadocios Riggs.

In the wake of the breakdowns of Barbaro, George Washington, but especially the filly Eight Belles, it is imprudent if not crass to risk a rerun of the Ruffian/Eight Belles tragedies.   Racing cannot readily survive an incident come Saturday in Baltimore pertaining to the injury or demise of Rachel Alexandra.   Sure, she might win and be celebrated but, however remote,  the Ruffian outcome looms like the Sword of Damocles.

Have the connections of Rachel Alexandra had a memory lapse about what happened in the 2008 Kentucky Derby? Do they know of what occurred to possibly the greatest filly in turf history in 1975?   Here’s hoping that the Jackson’s, who own Rachel Alexandra, weigh the costs versus the benefits to their filly, as well as to racing’s future, and opt out of the Preakness.

Do it as a tribute to Ruffian and Eight Belles.

Copyright © 2009 Horse Racing Business.