Talkin' Horses - Live Discussions

Bill Nack Turf Writer

Thursday May 24, 2007 12 p.m. (ET)

Popular turf writer and author Bill Nack makes a return appearance on Talkin’ Horses.

A former writer and columnist for Newsday, Nack spent 23 years an investigative reporter and general feature writer at Sports Illustrated. During his tenure with the sports weekly, Nack covered all sports but focused primarily on boxing and horse racing. In 2003, he compiled an anthology of his magazine writing in the book My Turf: Horses, Boxers, Blood Money and the Sporting Life.

He is the author of the recently-released “Ruffian: A Racetrack Romance”, which ESPN has made into a movie that will air on ABC on June 9, the same day that the network will air the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

Disney’s studio division recently bought the film rights to Nack’s “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion” and plans to turn it into a movie that will be released in 2008.

He also recently served on the panel that selected the top events in racing history that were compiled in the recent Eclipse Press release Horse Racing’s Top 100 Moments.

Born in Chicago and raised in Skokie, Ill., Nack graduated from the University of Illinois before serving a two-year period in the Army, the second in Vietnam. After leaving the service, he was a political and environmental writer at Newsday for four years, a turf writer for three years, and then served as a Newsday sports columnist for four years before joining Sports Illustrated. He has three daughters and a son and lives in Washington, D.C with his wife Carolyne.


New York, NY:
I know some people who have seen the Ruffian movie (I have not) and they are very upset or distressed about the breakdown scene. They say it's extremely graphic. In light of Barbaro, why get so graphic?

Nack:
It was the hardest part of the movie for me to watch, but this is what happened to her---Ruffian shattered the two sesamoids in her right front ankle---and I think it’s ill-advised and a cheat to make such a catastrophic breakdown less graphic than it was. I’ve thought about this, but I just don’t think that Barbaro’s accident and fate should have any bearing on how the Ruffian tragedy was handled on film. The Ruffian movie project was started long before Barbaro came on the scene, and I just don’t see how and why one should influence the other. While the breakdown was graphic, it was very brief, and I thought the scenes following the accident were handled with abundant sensitivity. In fact, there was nothing of that horrible scene at the barn that I witnessed and described in my book, with Barbara Janney wailing; with an uninvited vet, Dr. William Reed, giving her a shot he should not have given her; and with Ruffian going into shock, trying to lie down as she bled continuously from the ankle.

These were scenes I witnessed at the barn and none of them is in the movie. When Ruffian awoke from surgery and started thrashing around, according to witness Frank Tours, she threw people around like rag dolls. None of this violence is in the movie. In fact, from her breakdown to her destruction, the scenes are very quiet and subdued. Some would say it’s too quiet and subdued---too far from reality, too far from what really happened after she broke down.
You be the judge.

Glen Burnie, MD:
Is it true that you ran across the Belmont track after Ruffian broke down and almost got run over by Foolish Pleasure in the stretch?

Nack:
This is true. It was a damn fool thing to do, but I was caught in the hot whips of the moment, and my sole thought was to get across that racetrack to find out what had happened to that filly. A guard had prevented me from crossing the track when I got there, and I would have had clear sailing if he had let me go. By the time he walked away, diverted by a bunch of photographers, Foolish Pleasure was racing through midstretch and I was ducking under the gate and on my way. Jockey Braulio Baeza saw me and yelled. I heard him scream and I heard the thunder of Foolish Pleasure’s hoofbeats as they approached. I froze on the crown of the track. He swept past me. I could feel his wind. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. But all of this is told in my Ruffian book. It is also depicted in the Ruffian movie, of which more later.

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