June 6 (Bloomberg) -- Walt Disney Co. and its ABC and ESPN television networks were sued by a Racing Hall of Fame jockey and the trainer of the filly Ruffian to stop a movie about the horse's career, cut short by a 1975 accident at Belmont Park.
The complaint alleges violations of trademarks held by Jacinto Vasquez, Ruffian's jockey, and trainer Frank Whiteley. The movie, set for a June 9 release, is falsely billed as a true story, according to the complaint.
Ruffian's caretakers also claim the movie purports to rely on their insider experience and intimate knowledge when they had nothing to do with the production.
``Defendants seek to give credibility to the film as a docudrama by falsely claiming actual knowledge of the details of what happened to Ruffian in her last race that led to her death,'' the suit said. ``The content can only be a fictionalized account because none of the still-living members of the Ruffian inner circle agreed to participate and or cooperate in the production.''
The suit seeks a court order to halt broadcast of the film and unspecified damages from Disney, the second-largest U.S. media company. Ruffian broke a leg during a race at Belmont Park and was later euthanized. The horse, known as the ``Queen of the Fillies'' is buried near the flagpole at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
``The claims of the lawsuit are without merit,'' said Keri Potts, an ESPN spokeswoman. The movie is an original ESPN production, she said.
Shares of Disney fell 36 cents to $34.91 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. They are little changed this year, leaving the company with a market value of $69.2 billion.
Battle of the Sexes
Ruffian won 10 of 11 lifetime races, often by wide margins. The New York Racing Association paid $400,000 to secure Ruffian for what would be the horse's final race on July 6, 1975, against the colt Foolish Pleasure. The event was billed as a ``battle of the sexes,'' similar to the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs held two years earlier in the Houston Astrodome.
Vasquez rode Ruffian in all except two starts, including its last race. Ruffian led the first quarter until breaking two bones in its right foreleg. The horse continued running another 50 yards.
Ruffian immediately underwent surgery, which was successful. However, the horse awoke too soon and further mangled the leg by thrashing around and breaking the cast. The horse's owners, in consultation with Whiteley, Vasquez and assistant trainer Mike Bell, then decided to have it put down, according to the lawsuit.
Whiteley and Vasquez rejected offers to sell their life stories to ESPN and the company hired to make the movie, Orly Adelson Productions, for $5,000 each and another $100,000 to be split among Vasquez, Whiteley and Bell if a film was made.
Ruffian's fate was a foreshadowing of a similar tragedy to befall Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner that fractured a leg in the Preakness race in Maryland two weeks later. The colt was euthanized after several surgeries and ensuing infections.
Whiteley reminisced about Ruffian in an interview in the June 2 issue of Blood-Horse magazine.
``I hope the movie is good, for her sake; she deserves it,'' he said, according to Blood-Horse.
Whiteley and Vasquez are willing to help ESPN with the movie for an unspecified amount of money and advance screening of the piece before broadcast, their lawyer said in court filings.
The case is Thoroughbred Legends LLC v. The Walt Disney Co., No. 07CV1275, U.S. Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta).