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Agreement Will Permit 'Ruffian' Movie to Air

An agreement has been reached between Frank Whiteley and Jacinto Vasquez, the respective trainer and jockey of the top racemare Ruffian; the Walt Disney Company ABC; ESPN; and a movie production company over a movie about the filly.

A statement released June 6 said: “The injunction hearing seeking to delay the broadcast of the film Ruffian has been deferred. The parties have agreed to meet face to face next week to explore ways to resolve their dispute without the need for further litigation. Plaintiffs have expressed a willingness to review the film, provide commentary, and donate their fees to a foundation or fund established in the memory of Ruffian."

Lee Parks, spokesperson for Whiteley and Vasquez, reiterated the objectives of his clients in the release. “Our goal has been to ensure Ruffian’s story is told in an accurate and dignified manner and that the important people in her development as the greatest filly ever to race, Frank Whiteley and Jacinto Vasquez, are fairly portrayed and have the opportunity to share a rich oral history about Ruffian they alone possess," Parks said. "We simply want to so ensure the truth is told, that our trademark is respected and the Ruffian trademark and legacy will result in money going to charities that benefit equine health so that injuries similar to Ruffian’s can be avoided or better treated. We are excited and hopeful that ABC and ESPN’s willingness to discuss how we achieve those objectives will lead to a positive conclusion for all involved.”

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, takes issue with the filmmakers portraying their Ruffian film as a true story of the events surrounding her breakdown and subsequent death during and after a match race with Foolish Pleasure July 6, 1975.

Parks had said ESPN approached Whiteley and Vasquez several years ago to obtain the rights to use their stories in the film. Negotiations were unsuccessful.

“They wanted to use their names and depict them, but gave them no control over the content,” Parks said. “Nobody with a reputation would sign away their life story with no input. So ESPN, rather than folding, just found another way to tell the story.

“What we have asked them to do is put a disclaimer on the movie saying it is a fictionalized version based on true events, and that the depictions of Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Vasquez should not be considered as being approved by them. You see those disclaimers all the time, and that would be fine. We’re big boys. They are public figures. People can make movies about these things if they don’t present it as a true story.”

Parks said that as of June 5, no agreement had been reached, and that a hearing would be scheduled June 6 or 7. In addition, the lawsuit claims Thoroughbred Legends LLC holds the trademark to the Ruffian name in books, television, and film. (Thoroughbred Legends LLC is not affiliated with the book imprint of the same name published by Eclipse Press, a division of Blood-Horse Publications.)