(edited press release)
The bright lights of Tinsel Town are still a few months off for the opening of the Hollywood Casino at Penn National, but they will be shining brightly this weekend on one of the track’s jockeys.
Vladimir Diaz, currently seventh in the 2007 rider standings at the Grantville oval, has a major starring role in Saturday’s made-for-TV movie “Ruffian,” which will debut at 9:00 p.m. (EST) on ABC June 9.
“Ruffian” is the story of the amazing filly of the mid-seventies who is generally acknowledged as the greatest female racehorse of all time. She was unbeaten in her first ten races, winning by an average margin of more than eight lengths. She was champion two-year old filly in 1974 and won the filly Triple Crown in 1975.
The movie touches on her brilliant career, but focuses mainly on her tragic demise that came after she suffered a breakdown in a match race against a male rival, Foolish Pleasure, on July 6, 1975, at Belmont Park.
Diaz plays the role of Ruffian’s jockey Jacinto Vasquez. By chance he saw a casting notice for “Spanish-speaking riders” during a trip to Laurel Park in Maryland in March, 2006, and decided to give the producers a call.
“They asked for a tape of me reading some lines, and some racing footage,” said Diaz. “I sent it along on a whim, and two days later they called and flew me down to Louisiana for a screen test.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Diaz spent four weeks filming racing action at Louisiana Downs and then one week at Belmont Park in New York.
The film also stars Sam Sheppard as Ruffian’s trainer Frank Whitely, and Frank Whaley as racing columnist Bill Nack. The story is seen through the eyes of Nack who covered racing at that time for Newsday.
After an advance showing of the movie, Bill Finley of ESPN.com recent wrote that “among the actors, the most pleasant surprise is Vladimir Diaz. The Penn National-based jockey, who, presumably, had no prior acting experience, is outstanding in the role of jockey Jacinto Vasquez.”