The 1975 Kentucky Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure, will go down in history as one of the all-time great racehorses, but a sad twist of fate left him remembered for a single race that came to overshadow his otherwise spectacular career.
Foaled in Williston, Florida in 1972, Foolish Pleasure was owned by John L. Greer. The horse generated high expectations from the very beginning. He had the look and pedigree of a potential Classic winner. Trainer LeRoy Jolley was hired to condition the horse and the colt embarked on an aggressive two-year-old campaign.
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The highlight of Foolish Pleasure’s first year in racing was capturing the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Never an easy race to win, the event typically contains horses that will emerge as contender’s the following year in the Triple Crown series of races. His impressive victory in the Hopeful was followed by the victories in the Cowdin and Flamingo Stakes.
At the same time Foolish Pleasure was making short work of his two-year-old rivals, a filly on the East Coast was also making her debut in a similar fashion. Ruffian, trained by Frank Whiteley, Jr., finished her two-year-old season just as Foolish Pleasure did by remaining undefeated. No one really imagined that the two horses were on a devastating collision course.
As 1975 dawned and the Kentucky Derby drew closer, Foolish Pleasure was still leaving his rivals far behind. In the Wood Memorial, a race that had been the downfall of Triple Crown winner Secretariat, Foolish Pleasure captured his final victory in preparation for the Classic series. He was an overwhelming favorite in the Kentucky Derby and performed to expectations yet lost both the Preakness and Belmont to longshot runners. Meanwhile, Ruffian was completing her sweep of the fillies Triple Crown series to remain undefeated.
Talk began between the connections of both horses to arrange a match race between them. Despite the reservations of Ruffian’s trainer, the race was scheduled for July 6, 1975, just a short time after the Classic series for both horses. The two met at Belmont Park in an event that was billed as a Battle of the Sexes similar to the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. During the race Ruffian broke the sesamoid bones in one of her front legs and continued to run on the damaged tissue. Equine doctors tried to save her but she reinjured herself in recovery and was subsequently euthanized. Foolish Pleasure had won the race in the worst manner possible.
After the match race with Ruffian, Foolish Pleasure was eventually sent to stud with earnings of more than $1 million in the bank. He lived until 1994 and was euthanized after developing laminitis, a deadly horse ailment, in all four feet. The following year the horse was inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame. Despite all of his legendary accomplishments, most race fans today still think of that fateful match with Ruffian when they hear the name Foolish Pleasure.
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