YEAR: 2007

ROLE:  Frank Whiteley

DIRECTOR:  Yves Simoneau

US PREMIERE: June 4, 2007 on ABC

Plot Summary

RUFFIAN is the story of a racehorse hailed as the greatest thoroughbred filly of all time. Trained by Frank Whiteley and owned by Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Janney, Ruffian was named 1974's champion 2-year-old filly after dominating her opposition in all five of her starts, including four graded stakes. In 1975, she had won all five of her starts before she broke down approximately a quarter-mile into a 10-furlong match race with Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure at Belmont Park.

Film Details
Sam SHEPARD.................Frank Whiteley
Frank WHALLEY.............Bill Nack
Nicholas PRYOR...............Stuart Janney
Christine BELFORD.........Barbara Janney
Screenplay..................Jim Burnstein, Ross Parker and Garrett K. Schiff
Cinematography..........David Franco
Music..................Lawrence Shragge
Movie Stills

John Hall, Scripps Howard News Service:
Shepard, who owns a horse farm in Midway, Ky., brings a tangible authenticity and a thorough knowledge of horses to the performance. As such, he easily leads the film, making some of the rest of the acting seem pale in comparison... Animal lovers, race fans and everyone in between should find something compelling, be it Shepard's superb acting or a glimpse at a painful slice of horse-racing history 32 years later.

Susan Young, Inside Bay Area:
Galloping documentary 'Ruffian' is a winner... While Ruffian remains the center of this story, she's upstaged by a spectacular performance from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and actor Sam Shepard. Shepard plays taciturn trainer Frank Whitely with such presence that his lack of dialogue is never noticeable. Shepard conveys all he needs to in a look or a motion. His real-life counterpart wasn't known for his gentle nature, and Shepard keeps Whitely's edge.

Roy Lang III, The Shreveport Times:
The star of this show is Sam Shepard, who plays Ruffian's trainer Frank Whiteley, a biting horseman who eventually becomes emotionally attached to Ruffian and her incredible journey to martyrdom. "Sam Shepard, his love for horses came through," Film producer Adelson said. "He raises them and spends most of his time with horses. That love, for me, transcended the screen. The believability comes through. I believe it because that's who he is. I think it's one of his best performances and he's truly had a wonderful career."

Bill Finley,
Sam Shepard, himself a passionate racing fan, steals the movie as the taciturn trainer Frank Whiteley. Shepard is phenomenal and captures the essence of a gruff man who cared about little in life but his horses and winning races. That Shepard understands the sport is no doubt among the reasons why he was able to get Whiteley down perfectly.

David Hinckley, NY Daily News:
The main reason to watch "Ruffian," however, is Sam Shepard, who turns Whiteley into a fascinating monomaniac, in the best sense of the term. He lives to train horses. Everything else is an irritation, major or minor. Through him, we get our understanding of how Ruffian got to Belmont that day. Like the horse herself, that's worth knowing.

Tom Jicha, South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
The all-sports cable network (ESPN) has a spotty record with its original films, but this one is among its best efforts... Sam Shepard stands out as the off-putting Whiteley, although if racing veterans are to be believed, Shepard makes Whiteley much more pleasant than he was. Frank Whaley is overshadowed as Nack.

Ray Richmond, The Hollywood Reporter:
"Ruffian" blends all of the usual heart-in-your-throat racing action with a couple of vivid performances from the ever-soulful Sam Shepard and the underrated Frank Whaley, all shot with great care and dexterity by director Yves Simoneau... Shepard is his typically quiet and introspective self, but that persona works marvelously in this context. He communicates more with a glance than many are able to with pages of script."

Ted Cox, Daily Herald:
“Ruffian” is a lovely TV update of classic movie genre: the horse-racing film.... “Ruffian” might look like family viewing for most of its two-hour running time, but that broken-leg scene is apt to rattle kids every bit as much as the death of Bambi’s mother. So consider yourself warned. That said, this is still a fine sports flick, carried by Sam Shepard’s taciturn performance as trainer Frank Whitely. It’s the sort of role actors love to play, especially actors who are also maverick playwrights, in that the dialogue is so bare-bones and acerbic the charm is all in the inflections and the delivery.

Kevin McDonough, South Coast Today:
Sam Shepard is well cast as famous horse trainer Frank Whiteley, a taciturn and not altogether nice man who doted on Ruffian but could not even bring himself to say "Merry Christmas" to his stable hands.

Shepard, a horse racing follower and owner, has hard-boot, old-school trainer Whiteley down cold.

Tom Dorsey, The Courier-Journal:
The role looks tailored to fit Shepard's image as a man of few words. Even if you don't like horse movies, it's always a pleasure to watch Shepard work.

Mel Bracht, The Oklahoman:
Filmed in a six-week period last year at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., the entertaining movie brings to life the racing world of the 1970s. Sam Shepard turns in a strong performance as Ruffian's ornery trainer Frank Whiteley Jr.

David, Martindale, Fort Worth Star-

Sam Shepard is quite good as stoic trainer Frank Whiteley, and Frank Whaley is a hoot as colorful sportswriter Bill Nack.

Neil Best, Newsday:
Rags to Riches is not close to the phenomenon Ruffian was in 1974 and '75, a feeling nicely captured in the dramatization that stars Sam Shepard as trainer Frank Whiteley. The movie has other things going for it, notably racing scenes more realistic than those in the 2003 film "Seabiscuit," especially a powerful reenactment of the fateful match race itself... Whiteley comes off sympathetically in the movie, well served by Shepard.

Production Notes
Film production began on March 20, 2006  in Shreveport, Lousianna. The photo below shows Sam with his stand-in.

Announcement on March 3, 2006: Sam Shepard and Frank Whaley have been cast in the ESPN original telefilm "Ruffian." The horse racing drama is set to premiere on ABC in June 2007, in conjunction with ABC's coverage of the Belmont Stakes, after which it will air on ESPN and other Walt Disney Co.-owned outlets. Shepard plays trainer Franky Whiteley, who guides a filly racehorse through the 1970s. Whaley will play sportswriter Bill Nack. Production on the project is expected to begin March 20 in Shreveport, La. Orly Adelson is executive producing "Ruffian," penned by Jim Burnstein, Garrett K. Schiff and Ross Parker. Yves Simoneau (USA Network's "The 4400" and FX's "44 Minutes") is on board to direct. Adelson and her Orly Adelson Prods. have done a number of original series and telepics for ESPN, including "CodeBreakers" and the series "Playmakers."

History of the horse: Ten starts may not seem like much of a career, but Ruffian dominated her sport in a way that put the filly in a class by herself. As a two-year-old, she won each of her first five starts by an average of over seven-and-a-half lengths before her season was cut short by a hairline fracture in her right rear leg. Over the next year, she cruised to another five victories before facing her biggest challenge and, tragically, her downfall. On July 6, 1975, Ruffian was set for a match race at Belmont Park against Foolish Pleasure, a colt who had won the Kentucky Derby just two months earlier. It was supposed to be the equine battle of the sexes. But there was no Billie Jean King-like victory for Ruffian. In front of a national television audience of 18 million, she stumbled less than a half-mile into the race, shattering both sesamoid bones in her right foreleg. She continued to run on three legs, driving her injured ankle into the ground before she was pulled to a stop and, eventually, led into an ambulance and brought back to her barn. A team of doctors worked through the night, performing surgery for 3 1/2 hours. But when Ruffian came out of anesthesia, she kicked and bucked until her cast was mangled. The doctors had no choice but to euthanize the filly. Ruffian was buried in the infield at Belmont.

May 29, 2006 - Charleston Business Journal:

"There’s a particular kind of individual in the horse-racing game that’s known as a ‘hard boot trainer,'" Shepard explained. "It’s kind of considered old-fashioned now, I guess, but they were people who swore by clean water and oats and bringing the horse along as naturally as possible. For example, Ruffian never had shoes on until she got to the racetrack for the first time. The other thing is, trainers in Whitely’s day were very hands-on. Today, trainers have these huge operations, relying on assistants to work with 250 horses at a time. These old timers would have, at most, 20 horses in their barns."

When Whitley was asked whether he thought Shepard could adequately convey his orneriness, he didn’t miss a beat.

“He’ll have his work cut out for him,” he said with a smile slowly spreading across his face.

“Hey, I know ornery too,” Shepard said as he laughed at the anecdote.

Interestingly, the actor didn’t reach out to Whitely as he prepared for the role. "Frankly, I had heard that he wasn’t feeling too well, and I didn’t want to bother him," Shepard told the Business Journal. "Instead, I looked at televisions interviews he had given and talked to people who knew him."

And what portrait emerged?

"That Frank Whitely was a tough guy who knew everything there was to know about the horses in his barn: When they were sound, when they were well, and when they might be a little off their game. The hype … Frank shied away from that. All that publicity about the women’s liberation movement, he didn’t want to get involved with it. Nowadays, these modern trainers are showboaters. They embrace the press. Frank Whitely? He disliked the press under the best of circumstances."

Shepard was fresh from filming the final scene at Belmont when he talked to the Business Journal.

"One of the interesting aspects of that night was that Frank never broke down, through all this," Shepard said. "He may have felt all kinds of emotions, but outwardly he was stoic, and from what I gather, he held the whole thing together. He understood that the horse-racing game comes with risks. He understood it and understood it implicitly."

April 26, 2006:  ESPN wraps up filming of Ruffian

A crew from ESPN's Original Entertainment division spent four days at Belmont Park this week wrapping up the filming of "Ruffian," a movie depicting the career of the multiple champion filly who fatally broke down in a 1975 match race against that year's Kentucky Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure.

The film, which features actor Sam Sheppard as Ruffian's trainer, Frank Whiteley Jr., will debut June 4, 2007 on ABC and air the next night on ESPN. The air date is to coincide with next year's Belmont Stakes, scheduled for June 9. ABC televises the Belmont.

Ron Semiao, senior vice president of ESPN's Original Entertainment division, came up with the idea for a movie on Ruffian because, he said, "it is a good story that will move an audience. We as a network are very much involved in the sport of horse racing, and we felt this was a good movie to do, a good story that will resonate with an audience."

Ruffian won the first 10 starts of her career and was crowned champion 2-year-old filly of 1974 and champion 3-year-old filly of 1975. The match race with Foolish Pleasure brought a crowd of 50,764 to Belmont and was covered live on national television.

"There was an aura about her that hasn't been equaled since," said Yves Simoneau, who directed the film.

The bulk of the racing scenes were shot at Louisiana Downs because, Semiao said, "we needed a location that somewhat resembled what the climate was when the story took place."

The scenes being filmed Thursday at Belmont were of Ruffian's first workout as a 2-year-old after she arrived from Camden, S.C. The funeral for Ruffian, who is buried in the infield at Belmont, was also shot.

Actor Frank Whaley portrays Eclipse Award-winning sportswriter Bill Nack, who chronicled Ruffian's career for Newsday and served as a consultant on this film.

"They've done everything conceivable to make the setting and scenery as accurate as possible," said Nack. "They even used $100 bills that were vintage 1975."