Say, write or even think the name Foolish Pleasure and it’s a safe bet the first thing that will pop into the mind of a racing person is the name Ruffian. The names are forever linked because of the highly publicized “Great Match” between the two star 3-year-olds of 1975 on that disastrous early July afternoon at Belmont Park.
Artie Magnuson acknowledges the link between the two but to him Foolish Pleasure represents something more. He’s the Horse Who Changed Everything for the upstate New York native who was a longtime assistant to Kiaran McLaughlin before opening his own Across the Board Stables breaking, training and layup operation last year.
And he’s the latest installment of TIHR’s Horse Who Changed Everything, presented by EMBRACE THE RACE.
“When I was a kid the first horse was Foolish Pleasure,” Magnuson said earlier this spring. “It was 1975. On the TV, every two weeks back then they’d run, run, run, prep, prep, prep, Derby, and I was Foolish Pleasure crazy. Just crazy. That was the first horse I can remember that I didn’t miss.”
Foolish Pleasure won all seven of his starts as a 2-year-old, including a trio of Grade 1s in the Sapling, Hopeful and Champagne, and was named juvenile male champion of 1974. The son of What A Pleasure stretched his win streak to nine in his first two starts at 3 at Hialeah Park before a third-place finish in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
Foolish Pleasure rebounded to win the Grade 1 Wood Memorial in his final prep for the Kentucky Derby.
“He won everything, was (10-for-11) through the Derby,” Magnuson said. “I just remember having pictures of him on my wall, talking to everybody about him.”
Foolish Pleasure won the Kentucky Derby, defeating Avatar by 1 3/4 lengths in the 101st renewal of the opening jewel of the American Triple Crown. He was second in the Preakness, won by Master Derby, and second in the Belmont, won by Avatar, before the fateful Great Match July 6, 1975.
Jacinto Vasquez was Foolish Pleasure’s jockey during a significant portion of his 2-year-old season and into his classics campaign, riding the colt to seven victories in 10 mounts. He also caught the eye of the then 10-year-old Magnuson, who like many youngsters of that age growing up in the Saratoga area possessed a decent amount of knowledge about the stars of the sport.
“I wanted to be a jockey and that year my Dad took me to the track and I had no idea who was who,” Magnuson said. “We weren’t a racing family but my dad knew who he was. The jockeys walk through the crowd so my dad stopped Jacinto Vasquez, who was covered in mud after a normal race, said, ‘excuse me, sir, my son is a big fan.’ He stopped, shook my hand, said hello and talked to us. Whew, that was it. I told Jacinto that story last summer. He was visiting the barn and was kind of like, ‘is that right?’ “
The Great Match was about a month before that chance meeting at Saratoga and it was Braulio Baeza who rode Foolish Pleasure, while Vasquez chose to ride Ruffian.
Ruffian broke down shortly after the opening quarter-mile of the 1 1/4-mile race that was being televised nationally, fracturing both sesamoid bones in her right front leg. Foolish Pleasure continued on, finishing alone in the stretch in front of a shocked crowd and before millions watching TV.
Magnuson was among those watching at home in Clifton Park.
“We watched it in the living room in our house in Clifton Park, on the Zenith TV,” Magnuson said. “We just about had a color TV then, with the rabbit ears. My sister is three years older that I am. I’m the only racing person in the family but when she was younger she was horse crazy. I was the racing-horse crazy person.
“I’ve seen the win picture (from the match race). They took that win picture and they’re all kind of down. That was a weird deal. I guess that changed the game, there’s no more match races.”
Foolish Pleasure lost three straight races after the match race and subsequently the 3-year-old championship to Wajima, who defeated him, Forego, Ancient Title and others in the Marlboro Cup Invitational.
Foolish Pleasure returned to race at 4, winning four of eight, including the Grade 1 Donn and Brooklyn Handicaps, to cap his Hall of Fame career. He retired with 16 wins in 26 starts and earnings of $1,216,705, which at that point made him North America’s 11th all-time leading earner.