Peter Fuller (Associated Press Photo)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Peter Fuller, owner of the thoroughbred Dancer's Image that won the 1968 Kentucky Derby but was disqualified days later, has died of cancer in Portsmouth, N.H. He was 89.
Fuller died Monday at a skilled-care facility, according to one of his daughters, Miranda Bocko of Rye, N.H.
Fuller was a second-generation Boston auto dealer and son of a former Massachusetts governor who watched Dancer's Image rally from last to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Forward Pass.
A few days later, traces of the drug phenylbutazone were found in Dancer's Image's post-race urinalysis. Dancer's Image was disqualified by the stewards and placed last. Forward Pass was declared the winner.
"It's still very, very bright in my memory," Fuller told The Associated Press in 2008. "It really is quite a story."
The medication, known as "bute," is now common and given to alleviate chronic pain and joint soreness, not to enhance performance. It wa s legal on race days in most jurisdictions in 1968, but not Kentucky.
Dancer's Image had inherited tender ankles from his famous sire Native Dancer. They were especially sore after the colt's victory in his final Derby prep, the Wood Memorial.
Alex Harthill, nicknamed the "Derby Doc" for treating past winners, said he gave Dancer's Image a single dose of the medication six days before, seemingly enough time for it to clear the colt's bloodstream. Trainer Lou Cavalaris agreed with the tactic. Fuller said he let the vet and trainer handle his horse's well-being.
Fuller said he later spent $250,000 and four years unsuccessfully fighting the disqualification all the way to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
The scandal raised all sorts of theories, including Fuller's staunch belief that his role in the civil rights movement might have sparked the disqualification.
Fuller had donated the earnings from one of Dancer's Image's pre-Derby victories to Coretta Sc ott King, widow of the civil rights leader and a month after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in Memphis.
Anticipating "some funny business," Fuller said he asked Churchill Downs officials for extra security during Derby week, but was turned down. He described the guard on duty at his horse's barn as "an old fella sitting in a chair and asleep."
Today, Derby horses are placed under constant surveillance 72 hours before the race.
One of Fuller's daughters, Abby Fuller-Catalano, was in the winner's circle in 1968 and said that she remembered the hate mail her father received for supporting the civil rights movement.
"I think it offended a lot of people. That's basically why the horse got disqualified. The horse was a Maryland-bred. My dad was a Northerner. I think definitely that all factored in," she told The AP in 2008. "Hopefully someone will come out with the whole story, but I don't know if there's anyone that knows the whole story."
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