Peter Fuller, a New England Golden Gloves champion known for his resilience in the boxing ring, faced a devastating blow in May 1968. This hit, however, didn’t come from an opponent’s punch but from the controversial disqualification of his prized racehorse, Dancer’s Image, in the 94th Kentucky Derby.
In that iconic Derby, Dancer’s Image, ridden by jockey Bobby Ussery, overcame a mishap when the jockey lost his whip and won by a length and a half, thrilling Fuller and spectators. Still, this jubilation was short-lived. Three days later, it was revealed that Dancer’s Image had traces of phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory drug, in his system. The horse was disqualified, and the victory was handed to the runner-up, Forward Pass.
The disqualification shocked the racing world and led to a lengthy and contentious legal battle. While Fuller vehemently defended his horse’s innocence, suspicions and conspiracy theories abounded. After more than five years of legal wrangling, Dancer’s Image was briefly reinstated as the rightful winner by a Kentucky court, only to see that decision overturned on appeal in 1972. Fuller never received the winner’s purse of $122,600, and the controversy left many questions unanswered.
Peter Fuller, a man of strong principles and the son of Alvan T. Fuller, who served as the governor of Massachusetts, had a background in boxing and a significant inheritance. He became involved in horse racing after purchasing a mare named Michikee and quickly developed a passion for the sport. Over time, he transitioned from claiming racehorses to breeding them on his 200-acre farm in North Hampton, New Hampshire.
Dancer’s Image, initially named Alvan T., was born from one of Fuller’s mares and sired by Native Dancer. He inherited both his sire’s talent and his Achilles’ heel, troublesome ankles. Despite considering selling the colt, Fuller bought him back, renamed him Dancer’s Image, and nurtured him for the track. Dancer’s Image faced health challenges throughout his career, but he became a promising 3-year-old with impressive victories, leading him to the Kentucky Derby.
Dancer’s Image’s Kentucky Derby victory was surrounded by controversy and questions. A positive drug test for phenylbutazone, despite a prevailing belief that the substance would be out of the horse’s system in time for the race, triggered the disqualification. This historic event still raises questions about whether the test was tainted or whether other factors influenced the decision.
The Derby’s legacy extends beyond the horse race. Changes in regulations were implemented, such as stabling all Derby horses in one barn with increased security and improved drug testing procedures. Peter Fuller continued his involvement in horse racing and breeding, and his lasting legacy includes raising awareness of the need for equine welfare.
The story of Dancer’s Image remains an enigmatic chapter in the annals of the Kentucky Derby, with lingering mysteries and unanswered questions.