The Winner Who Lost
The 60's were also a pretty volatile era, accordin' to AHM, who's old enough to know. In 1968, millionaire businessman Peter Fuller, son of former Massachusetts Governor Alvan Fuller, owned a talented gray son of Native Dancer. Dancer's Image was just comin' into his own in time for the Derby, winning the stepping stone prep Wood Memorial. Fuller, a civil rights sympathizer, donated the winner's purse to the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The gesture prompted a backlash, including violent racist threats, as Fuller and Dancer's Image headed for Kentucky.
For two days it appeared that Dancer's Image, who had circled the field and come from last to first, had avenged his famous sire's only career loss. (In a shockin' upset, Dark Star had gone wire to wire in the 1953 Derby, fending off Native Dancer to win by a head—the only time in 22 starts that Native Dancer did not finish first.) Then, two days later, the Kentucky Racing Commission reported Dancer's Image's post-race urine test had returned positive for Butazolidin, a then-illegal drug known as “Bute.” He was disqualified, placed last, and runner-up Forward Pass was declared the winner.
Plagued by sore ankles (which we now know is the sad heritage of the Native Dancer lineage—both Big Brown and Eight Belles are/were descendents of Native Dancer sons) Dancer's Image's handlers had a vet give him an anti-inflamitory tablet, phenylbutazone, the Sunday before the Derby. It was a legitimate practice since the medication would dissipate from the horse's system during the six days before the Derby. Or should have.
Conspiracy theorists went crazy and a whole bunch of lawyers got rich. (It wasn't until 1972 that Forward Pass was finally declared the official winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby.) Many people believed Peter Fuller was a victim of retaliation for his support of civil rights—Kentucky bein' a southern state 'n all—and Fuller still believes he was the victim of a set up because of that $62,000 donation to Coretta Scott King.
Dancer's Image ran in the Preakness, finished third behind Forward Pass, and was, ironically, disqualified back to eighth for bumping another horse. He was retired after the race because of…chronic ankle problems
Had the horse’s feed been tampered with before the Derby? Or was the urine sample tainted afterward? The controversy made the cover of Sports Illustrated as the sports story of the year but the mystery remains. And Dancer's Image is still the only Kentucky Derby winner who lost.
posted by Harrison at 10:35 PM