The portrait of Ruffian is in the private collection  of John Bellucci

Winner of the Texas Review Award

(The portrait of Ruffian on the cover
is in the private collection of John Bellucci)

On April 17, 1972, at ten minutes to ten in the late evening, three days late, the only time she would be, Ruffian was born at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky. She was born with a star on her forehead, a sign of what she would become: the fastest filly, maybe the greatest horse of all time. From her record breaking maiden race, she left behind the best fillies and mares in races she ran and won almost effortlessly as she won stakes and broke records. She was ahead at every point of call. Ruffian was strikingly beautiful, more like his Black Stallion the writer Walter Farley said than any colt he=d seen, the image of The Black Beauty. An undefeated winner of lightning fast speed, Ruffian was Champion Juvenile filly of 1974. She was never headed, flew to breathtaking, stunning victories with a stride like no other horse, almost ghostly. Invincible until just after her Triple Crown win for fillies it seemed Ruffian didn=t know how to lose. Then, in a tragic, misguided match race with the winner of the year=s Kentucky Derby, the colt Foolish Pleasure, she broke down, even then in the lead by nearly a length. Even on three legs, thrusting her broken foreleg into the ground over and over, she could not easily be pulled up.

No one who saw her can forget her. Ruffian was rare, perfect, spectacular, miraculous, bright and she is buried where no other horse has been buried, where she ran her first and last race at the infield at Belmont under the NYRA flag pole, her nose pointing, as it always did, toward the finish line.

Now, in her new poetry book, The Licorice Daughter: My Year with Ruffian, Lyn Lifshin gives us an intimate view of this remarkable horse.

Lyn Lifshin, photo from back of The Licorice Daughter"We can teach horses to break from a starting gate, load in a horse van, walk on a lead rope. We can teach them to be shod, ridden and bathed like dogs. We can handle them, corral them, coax them. But we never really tame them. Ruffian was untamed. She was the grizzly bear, the ballerina, the Ruffian. Yes — what made her great also killed her. Ruffian touched the world, for lots of reasons: she was a she, she was powerful and oh so fleeting. Thoroughbred racing has never gotten over Ruffian. Lyn Lifshin came out of nowhere to become a Ruffian fan, a zealot for everything Ruffian stood for and all that she touched. Her poems will carry you away to a field of Kentucky foals, to the racetrack where each new horse could be the one, to the bone-numbing feeling of a runaway winner and to the despair of watching brilliance flame out. Ruffian would have liked Lifshin."
-- Sean Clancy, author of Saratoga Days

"Eros and Equus perfectly combine in these sleek, sensual poems. From brilliant filly to tragic fatality, Lifshin keeps pace with this dark darling of the track, everybody's favorite -- Ruffian."
--Laura Chester


"These poems do the memory and legacy of Ruffian The Beauty justice at last. Poetry is the only medium to evoke the liife and tragic death of this extraordinary horse, and Lyn Lifshin proves more than up tothe task in these poems. They mirror the evolution of Ruffian's athletic prowess and striking black beauty with deft attentiveness and poignant detail. They do not merely honor the memory of Ruffian, but invoke the dynamic ghost of her radiant presence and the freakiness of her speed, hence bring her back to life for an interminable moment so that we can once more wonder at the stellar quality of her being."
--Joe Le Rosa

"Thank you, thank you, thank you for the wonderful The Licorice Daughter. I have loved that horse since she first burst upon the scene in 1974. I have mourned more for her than most people that have died.

"Being a writer I tried to capture her remarkable grace and spirit in one of my columns. It was very, very hard to compose, and I never did feel fully satisfied with it. Now I know why-only poetry could ever do her justice. I think too, that not only was she better than Secretariat( who I also loved), she could have taken on any horse before and after her death and beaten them.

"Her death is something I will never get over and I thank you again for the words you wrote for that black girl that transcended all dreams while she lived. I am quite sure there will never be another like her."
-- Linda Hopkins

Published by:

Texas Review Press
PO Box 21426
Division of English and Foreign Languages
Evans Building
Room 152
Huntsville TX 77341-2142
(936) 294-1992 (PH)
(936) 294-3070 (FX)

Available as of July 18, 2005 from the Texas Review Consortium at 800-826-8911

Available from

Read Lyn Lifshin's article on the 30th Anniversary of Ruffian's last race in Horse&Rider or download as a PDF file

Read the article published in the Lexington Herald-Leader, pub. Dec 27 2005

Hear Grace Cavalieri's interview with Lyn Lifshin after the publication of The Licorice Daughter (click here) and hear Lyn read from the book (click here) at Cafe Lena.

Read reviews of The Licorice Daughter


moving slowly thru
candle light, no green,
no sky or moon, and
how, coming into the
brightness above earth's
grave, they went crazy,
wild. It was too much
to take in, the quivering
leaves, scent of clover
and yarrow. The blaze
of sun frightened them
like horses who run
back to burning
buildings, terrified. In
their panic, they pick
the known, even if it
means death, like Ruffian
who only knew how to
fly to victory. Reined in,
in agony, the horses
battle what, like Ruffian,
trying to outrun what
scared her, blinds them


at 9:50 April 17
she was there, suddenly,
dark and slick as she
would be on her
last night. Ruffian,
with a star on her
forehead, pale buds
outside the stall
door. She was lying
beside her mother
on the straw. Her
mare, Shenanigans,
still sweaty from
the birth tho it took
less than half an
hour. The filly,
all long skinny legs,
awkward, bent, too
long it seemed for
the little body,
licorice but when
wiped down, a dark
chocolate with a
few grey hairs and
behind one left leg,
a white band, a
white bracelet
to go with the
star she'd be


it was as if she had
wings and then
the wings turned to
wax, were melting.
There was a hush,
seconds after the
wild cheers as
Ruffian edged
ahead. It was hot
and the roses were
dripping. The sun
kept on, as it did
with Icarus falling
from the sky on
melting wings. The
birds didn't stop.
When her jockey
pulled her up that
last night, everyone
who knew must
have covered
their eyes

Lyn in front of the horse gate at the Horse Museum
Lyn in front of the horse gate at the Horse Museum

Pictures from the Ruffian Book-Signings:


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