By all too many, Foolish Pleasure is only remembered as the ‘other horse’ on that fateful afternoon of July 6, 1975 that ultimately claimed the life of the great Ruffian. That’s a shame, because the son of What a Pleasure was a marvelous runner that otherwise thrilled fans with three excellent seasons of racing. While the match race was Ruffian’s initial attempt against male runners, it seemed that the careers of both horses were intertwined long before that. At least that is how I remember it, and it all began with my very first live viewing of the Hopeful Stakes.
Spending the afternoon away from the track one afternoon 39 years ago, my family and I missed out on seeing the most impressive performance in the history of the Spinaway Stakes. Ruffian dominated the grade 1 race like never before, and no horse has done since. Just one day later, the colts in two divisions of the historic Hopeful Stakes would have plenty to do if they were to come close to living up to the race run by the fleet filly. One colt would do his best to try.
While the first division was won in nothing special sort of fashion by a colt named The Bagel Prince (word is his ability to win a juvenile championship had a noticeable hole in the middle), it was the second division that would see one juvenile live up to the fantastic history of the Hopeful. Missing Ruffian the day before may have been a mistake, but we were all glad to see another young champion doing his thing at the Spa.
Foolish Pleasure was no secret. Owned by John L. Greer, and trained by Leroy Jolley, the bay colt had impressed right out of the gate. After an impressive debut, winning off in a Hialeah maiden race, Foolish Pleasure moved right into stakes company in a big way, snaring Delaware’s Dover Stakes by ten lengths. Wins in the Tremont, and then the Grade 1 Sapling Stakes were not as easy, but when the horse he had just defeated in New Jersey by a decisive 1 ¾ length margin, came back to win the first division of the Hopeful (The Bagel Prince), it was clear that the undefeated Foolish Pleasure was the horse to beat in division two. He would not disappoint.
Sent off as the 11-10 chalk in the eight horse field, Foolish Pleasure stayed within striking distance of a blistering early pace. As Greek Answer smoked through early fractions of :21 4/5 and :44 2/5, the race favorite, with Braulio Baeza in the irons for the first time, stayed glued to the rail until the stretch run. When the real running began inside the quarter pole, Foolish Pleasure angled out well of the rail, and once he got to running straight again, exploded past Greek Answer for a dominating win. Nearly a full second faster than the first division, he may not have carried the flare of Ruffian (he never did for that matter), but there was no doubt that in my very first Hopeful, or at the least the second division of my very first Hopeful, we had seen a good one. Talk quickly moved to a Ruffian-Foolish Pleasure showdown.
A hairline fracture in the right hind leg of Ruffian ended hopes of a likely meeting in the Champagne Stakes. Foolish Pleasure did run, and he won his seventh consecutive race, winning at Belmont by six lengths. Both two year old champions of 1974 (male and female) went into the winter undefeated.
Foolish Pleasure would carry that streak to nine consecutive wins, before finally losing in the Florida Derby. The 1975 Kentucky Derby favorite, Foolish Pleasure went on to win the roses, before narrow second place finishes in both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. The highlight of his four-year-old season was a wonderful victory in which he defeated Forego and Lord Rebeau in one of the best stretch drives you'll ever see. All in all, he won 16 of 26 races and more than $1.2 million back in the day when millionaire status really meant something. Foolish Pleasure was so much more than the ‘other horse’ and I was lucky to see him in my very first Hopeful.