by Bob Gates
There is nothing sweeter than the memories evoked by one of God's majestic creations - the thoroughbred racehorse. Almost 50 years have passed since the talented bay filly, Ruling Lark ruled the roost at Assiniboia Downs.
I have wanted to do the story of the fleet-footed darling two-year-old champion of 1968 for some time now, but I wasn't sure I could do her memory justice. She only raced 11 times, five times as a two-year-old and six times at four. She could run short or cover a route of ground with ease, over a fast or muddy racing surface. It simply didn’t matter. She was that good!
The flashy bay daughter of One-Eyed King out of Riz by Errard won six races in her short career. She won four of her five races at two, breaking her maiden at first asking and set a track record (:33 1/5) for the @ three furlongs distance in the process. Now that's how to start a career. She had an exceptional "baby season" winning four in a row at the Downs which included the Osiris Plate and the Winnipeg Futurity.
Ruling Lark's only defeat in 1968 was in Woodbine's Princess Elizabeth Stakes. She finished 12th after breaking from post position #14. The loss was totally understandable. After the race, it was discovered that she broke a bone in her foot. Initial reports indicated that this was going to be a career-ending injury.
Ruling Lark missed her three-year-old season due to the injury. Her 1970 season while not as impressive as 1968, was not a disappointment. She won two of her six races, over talented allowance company of older horses and again mostly boys. She finished a credible fourth and fifth, in the Speers and Gold Cup respectively. Following the 1970 season she was retired, this time for good, to the broodmare ranks.
She was a remarkable filly that 50 years of history cannot erase. The $3,700 yearling was purchased by veteran trainer, George Howell for the partnership of Morris Kaplan and Parry Orestes. Bobbie Dimma was her regular rider. There is no disputing her on-track ability and as special as that was, she left behind a legacy that went well beyond her accomplishments on the racing oval.
Gathering non-clinical information about Ruling Lark was a challenge with all of her connections gone. Trainer George Howell passed in February 1982, Parry Orestes in September 1983, Morris Kaplan January 2007 and Bobbie Dimma in 2014, So I turned to Bob's bride, Sandy Dimma in hopes that she might have story or two that she could share. As it turns out, things could not have worked out better.
I knew I struck gold when Sandy said " I do remember her!"
She went on to explain that Bobbie knew how badly she wanted a full-length leather coat. Bob promised that if Ruling Lark won the Futurity the leather coat was hers. Well, the rest is history. Ruling Lark dominated the Winnipeg Futurity beating all six challengers over a muddy track which included two smart eastern shippers, but there was so much more to Sandy's story.
Ruling Lark's on-track accomplishments may have faded over the years, but the memory of an evening of celebration at Parry Orestes' Paddock Restaurant after the Futurity is as vivid to Sandy as if it had happened yesterday. Ruling Lark and Bobbie were the stars that evening. Sandy and Bob were treated like royalty taking their place at the front of a three-sided table seating arrangement in one of the Paddock's private rooms.
Sandy explained she was pregnant at the time and in her own words was "definitely eating for two." When it came to dessert she craved strawberry shortcake in the worst of ways. According to Sandy the serving she received had to be at least a quarter of the cake. It was a special evening she will never forget.
Sandy worried that her memory of Ruling Lark wasn't the kind of thing I was looking for. The final words belong to Sandy…
"She was a gorgeous little filly, a really talented beauty. She will always be special to me. Sometimes sweet memories surface like little fireflies!"
Thank you Sandy, that's exactly what I was looking for!