Hats Off to the Horses: The Road to the Derby - Ruhlmann

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Unique Online Derby Hat Auction Benefiting Old Friends sponsored by MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® Custom Millinery by Sally Faith Steinmann.

For the second consecutive year, MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® and Old Friends are teaming up for an unparalleled online shopping experience: "Hats Off to the Horses: The Road to the Derby". This unique Derby hat fundraiser features one-of-a-kind couture Derby hats created by MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® to benefit Old Friends. To learn more about Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm and bid on the hats, please visit the Old Friends website, or call them at 502-863-1775.
For the sixth and final hat auction of this year's series, milliner Sally Faith Steinmann of MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® has created this stunning one-of-a-kind couture Derby hat as a memorial tribute to honor Ruhlmann, one of the most beloved retirees at Old Friends of Kentucky who passed Christmas Eve 2008.

To read about this magnificent stallion, please click on the photos of Ruhlmann

Ruhlmann was once described by founder and President of Old Friends, Michael Blowen, as a horse "who did not suffer fools gladly". Victories during his career over such horses as Sunday Silence and Easy Goer and 8 graded stakes wins including the glorious 1990 Santa Anita Handicap triumph earned Ruhlmann well-deserved recognition as a superlative athlete. Still, according to Michael Ruhlmann, was a horse who didn't like to be pushed or bossed around throughout his racing and breeding years.

"But, when he moved to Old Friends and became the boss", says Michael, "his whole attitude changed". Donated in 2004 under an endowment by Ann and Jerry Moss, owners of 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta, the great stallion Ruhlmann arrived at Dream Chase Farm in late December 2004. "Ruhlmann was... the first Thoroughbred donated to Old Friends by his owners and it sent the message to the rest of the world that we were okay."

Part of the magic of Old Friends is the safe, nurturing environment it offers to these retired horses. The horses that are fortunate enough to find their home there gradually begin to unwind and eventually understand that they have found a very special sanctuary. Michael has a gift for developing close relationships with each of the horses in his care. From the stories, it seems that this "difficult" stallion who won well over a million dollars during his lifetime and was at times a challenge to handle, found a real, true friend in Michael Blowen. Michael's warm feelings for Ruhlmann are evident in his words, "He was never cuddly and sweet like The Wicked North. But, if you did what he wanted when he wanted it, he'd let you pet him and even kiss him on the nose. It was that same intensity that he brought to his race track game that made him so appealing." And a real friend is someone who'll always go the extra mile for you.

Michael poignantly writes of Ruhlmann on that final Christmas Eve morning in 2008,"Ruhlmann was staring at me over his fence. I knew he wanted extra carrots. I didn't really want to go back to the house but there was something in his expression that made his request irresistable. Of course, he got his carrots. And, as always, I was glad I listened to him."

Such a champion deserved a very special hat created in his honor; a design that was stunning, sophisticated, and not overly frilly or frou frou. The result is a millinery confection created in striking tones and textures celebrating this great champion's athleticism and impressive career as an extraordinary Thoroughbred racehorse. The "Ruhlmann" hat is also a very special thank you to the Moss family who honored Old Friends with their donation of Ruhlmann nearly 7 years ago.

An asymmetrical 24-inch wide brim design was chosen for the Ruhlmann hat and a rich black dupioni silk was selected to reflect the stallion's nearly black coat. Layer upon layer of black tulle and silk organza were used to create a ruffled brim edge trim that literally dances and moves and frames the face beautifully when the brim is upturned. The brim was created in this way to reflect the smooth, fluid action of the Thoroughbred athlete rolling forward at full gallop. Stunning from so many different angles!

This ruffled brim edge was then embellished with an elegant swirling black braiding, top stitched in place, to give it a finished look.

The teal and pink racing silks of the Moss stable provided the color palette for the trimmings of this stunning Derby hat design. The centerpiece is an enormous pink rose curl created in luscious swirling layers of alternating pink organza and two shades of pink dupioni silk, and is meant to reflect Ruhlmann's crowning achievement in the 1990 Santa Anita Handicap (Grade I) when he beat eventual Horse of the Year, Criminal Type.

A pinkish cinnamon-tinted crinkled teal taffeta sash, gently gathered for added texture and movement, was created to encircle the crown of the hat.

A medley of variegated fabric leaves created in crinkled and solid teal taffeta lined with soft mocha taffeta softly frames the giant pink rose.

Layers of swirling, curling black silk organza and black tulle, sprinkled with wispy teal tulle sprays, cradle the rose and leaf centerpiece, giving a bit of added texture and dimension to this organic, flowing trim design.

A single translucent blush pink flower button adorns the back seam of the hat and highlights the pinkish cinnamon hue of the crinkled teal taffeta sash.

One other innovation for the "Ruhlmann" hat was the weaving of a physical remembrance of the horse into the hat. Several strands of the great stallion's tail hairs were braided and woven into the trim of the hat itself, thereby creating a unique, one-of-a-kind Derby chapeau that is Ruhlmann not only in spirit but in substance as well...

The purpose of this amazing millinery delight is to honor the life of Ruhlmann and all of the horses who, thanks to the generosity of those who support their aftercare, now graze in the warm sunshine of Dream Chase Farm for the rest of their days.

Photo Credits:  Ruhlmann headshot photo by Flashpoint Photography; Ruhlmann running, "Run Free Sweet Ruhlmann", by Rick Capone