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Ruffian: Burning From the Start

4.33 of 5 stars 4.33  ·  rating details  ·  1,794 ratings  ·  79 reviews
During two short seasons at the track, Ruffian was hailed as the greatest thoroughbred filly of all time. Unbeaten in her first ten starts, she shattered one record after another, dazzling crowds with both her beauty and her brilliant speed. Then tragedy struck on the afternoon of July 6, 1975. Ruffian broke down–on the lead–in the middle of a match race at Belmont Park. L ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published April 30th 2002 by Ballantine Books (first published 1991)
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Black Beauty by Anna SewellThe Black Stallion by Walter FarleyKing of the Wind by Marguerite HenryMisty of Chincoteague by Marguerite HenrySeabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
Horse Books/Novels
22nd out of 801 books — 481 voters
Black Beauty by Anna SewellThe Black Stallion by Walter FarleyKing of the Wind by Marguerite HenrySeabiscuit by Laura HillenbrandMisty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
Best Horse Books
23rd out of 280 books — 248 voters

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Community Reviews

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Bonnie M.
I can remember seeing Ruffian run in the match race that ultimately caused her to be euthanized. Sadly, her death brought many reforms to the often ugly sport of horse racing and management of injuries, as well as greater attention to breeding.

Ruffian was a gorgeous animal and an amazing athlete. Even though I knew how the story ended, I wanted to know more about her, her owners, trainers, and all those around her. This book gave me that insight, and even the tears in my eyes at the end didn't t
A in-depth biography of a remarkable filly who was born to run. Ruffian is unique in the racing world not only for her speed but for her heart and will to win. She is buried entire near the flagpole at Belmont Park, facing the finish line. Ruffian lived a life of triumph, courage and tragedy, one of the foremost race horses of the 20th century.
This is the book that Ruffian deserves. Schwartz does justice to this immensely talented horse, and to the people around her--Frank Whiteley, her trainer, her groom, exercise riders, jockey and her owners. I came away with a great respect for all of them.

Schwartz alternates chapters dealing with Ruffian's training and racing, her past, with chapters leading up to the match race with Foolish Pleasure. It's a style that could be confusing, but she handles it with skill. It's a technique that also
I can't decide why I liked this book. I don't know that it was necessarily as well-written as some of the other thoroughbred biographies (Lauren Hillenbrand's, specifically), but I still enjoyed it.

The end we all know. And of course I cried. A lot. But, the rest of the story was still interesting to read. I guess what makes this less exciting is that Ruffian never really had a chance to really show off what she could do. Man'o'War got his fair time on the track, as did Secretariat, and Seabiscui
Patricia Swenson
I remember crying for 3 days after Ruffian was put down. I also re-evaluated my desire to be a vet. And learned that I was not cut out to be one. I would not be able to put a horse down, nor allow one who needed to be put down to live in pain, and be able to live with my decision.
I loved this book. A perfect combination of in-depth history about all the people and events around Ruffian without the story being weighed down with minutiae. I could have lived without the description of Ruffian's conception -- I think non-horse people don't care about how horses are bred, and horse people already know how it works. But otherwise the story was amazing. And the ending... I won't spoil it, but it was a perfect way to honor Ruffian's life and close the story. A must-read for hors ...more
Lisa Hoenig
A detailed account of Ruffian's brief, bright flame of a life. Loved that the horse herself is so much of a presence in the book, alongside all of her handlers, trainer, owners and riders. Schwartz's telling reveals Ruffian's amazing heart -- big enough that Walter Farley said she was the closest thing he ever saw to his fictional Black Stallion. Undefeated, she set or equaled records in every race she ran. Although you know how the story will end, the book is riveting all the way through. I esp ...more
I have loved horses ever since I can remember. They are such beautiful, majestic animals. I take advantage of every opportunity just to be near them and watch them whether grazing in a field, jumping or performing dressage in a show ring, running in a race, teaching children to ride or taking care of broken or injured people in a therapeutic program.

Given this love, I was one of the millions watching the match race back on that day in 1975. When I came across this book, I wanted to learn more a
This book was moving, informative, and brilliantly put together. Schwartz certainly did her homework in the research department, and she writes with enough skill and subtlety to touch you deeply, without having to resort to petty tricks. It helps that the story of Ruffian is a tragedy, but I believe Schwartz's skill contributed a lot, particularly after reading William Nack's take on the subject. If you want to know what I thought of that, you may find your way to that review, thank you.

If you love horse racing, read this book. If you love animals, read this book. If you love the drama of sports, read this book. It's a tough read, esp towards the end when it deals with Ruffian's breakdown and death, but you will come out of this read knowing the true heart and courage of this incredible filly. One of the greatest racemares of all time, Ruffian's record was a picture of perfection until her final start.

This book will hit you hard, but it will make you marvel at the majesty of th
OK, I'm a sucker for horse books. Ruffian is a good story, about an incredible filly, but not as well written as Seabiscuit: An American Legend. I think part of the problem is that, inspite of her name, Ruffian was a filly whose training and story, while filled with great promise and blistering speed, were mostly uneventful until the bitter end. As a reader and horse lover, I'm left mourning the passing of a racing great whose short career will always be plagued by the question: How much more co ...more
Apr 05, 2010 Stephanie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone who loves horses, anyone intersted in horse racing, anyone interested in American History
Recommended to Stephanie by: All of my friends
Shelves: horses
Just as good as I remembered it. I like how it doesn't focus on the tragedy that became of her life but rather what she accomplished and left unfinished. The author doesn't fault the racing industry or trainers or any of the above - as she shouldn't - it was a horrible accident that couldn't be avoided. Great writing about an American Racing Legend and an insightful look into the thoroughbred racing industry. I will mostly likely re-read this book in the future as I have done several times.
Lisa James
Even though I ws a little girl when her tragedy occurred, & knew what the outcome would be before I ever read it, this was an amazing book. It made me laugh, it made me cry. The photos were a wonderful memory to have of this filly who gave her heart to her sport, & who's broken life touched America's horse lovers & Thoroughbred lovers around the world. Rest In Peace brave girl. You were a star that burned out way too soon.
K.V. Witten
I read this book a while back. I must admit to a sentimental attachment to Ruffian and her story. I was around eleven or twelve when she was racing and I (along with several of my friends) felt she was *our* horse - a filly that took on the boys and beat them at their own game. And I most especially remember her last race and hysterically crying when she broke down. A heart-breaking but yet inspiring story.
Jun 06, 2009 Caroline rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Carol, Tiffany, Cara, Camille
Shelves: equine, nonfiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Well done. A nice tribute to an amazing filly.

She was alsways inspiring and beautiful to me (even though some of my views of the industry have changed in the last 21 years) ... I now see a less Romanticized view of the treatment of the horses, but no less so of the magic that is a Thoroughbred who loves to run - and especially in a spirited, gorgeous filly who never lost a race.
One of the best horse racing books I've ever read.
I was fifteen that July afternoon when my dad, grandfather, and I watched the match race between Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure.
I sometimes share aloud with my students the scene in the book where Ruffian breaks down. But I have to be careful when I do because my voice chokes with the tears of my teenage self.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Linda Ransom
Broke my heart. I cried several times during this book (during anything about Ruffian, really), but it's one of the very BEST horse books I've ever read. She was an amazing filly, and it's a shame she was never able to race again.

If you love horses, please read it. It will break you, but the pain is worthwhile.
A must read for horse lovers. Such a moving, poignant story about a great racehorse and the people who surrounded her. We are left to wonder what if her fate had been different. Thought the writer did a good job both describing daily track life, realities of horse racing, and the characters of the people in the story.
Katie Dreyer
My Mom always told me how she watched this race. For any of you with a knowledge of horse racing, you know the race I'm talking about: the race where Ruffian, arguably the greatest filly to ever race in the big leagues, fell and died on the track. A fascinating, tragic account of a truly phenomenal horse.
Allison Janezic
I read this book many years ago and forgot the date. It is a beautiful look into one of racing's greatest athletes, the people who surrounded her and her brief run into history. Without a doubt when comparing great female Thoroughbreds Ruffian is the one name that will always come up.
Mr. Kovach
A fantastic book about a glorious race horse that met a tragic end. I love the way the narrative goes back and forth between the fateful match race and all the events in the horse's life that led up to it. Just a wonderfully written account of an amazing and beautiful horse.
One of the best horse books I've ever read. I read it as a kid in junior high and I loved it so much I never wanted to give it up. I searched for the 1st Edition and found it a few years ago. I HAD to have the same edition I read when I was younger. She moved me.
I was there the day she broke down and stood outside Belmont in the dark when they buried her. We'll never know how good she might have been. On a side note, I own a grandson of Foolish Pleasure and I've never met a horse with more heart.

Wow, this book was amazing. Once you get past all the swearing, it's a really amazing tale about this surreal filly who just came out of no where and won everything; she proved that girls CAN be better ;-) I sobbed right through the end.
This is one of my favorite non fiction horse books. It is very evident that Jane Schwartz was emotionally invested in her subject and, at the same time, tells all of the details without exaggeration.
An outstanding story of courage and heart that any horse lover or racing fan should read. Schwartz writes beautifully about the sport and the filly who dominated it for too short a time.
True story that was more about the people than the horse. Yes, Ruffian was the glue that held everyone together but the book focused on the people who cared for and about her.
Andrea Kepner
Ruffian is my favorite racehorse and this book doesn't disappoint her fans. I dearly wish I could have seen her race before her tragic accident.
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“If a horse and rider listened to each other, they could do just about anything together.” 1 likes
“You do the riding and I’ll do the training. When I put her in a race you’ll find out who she is.” 0 likes
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