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Dancer's Image: The Forgotten Story of the 1968 Kentucky Derby
By Milton C. Toby
History Press, March 2011, 128 pages paperback

The 94th running of the Kentucky Derby is one that will forever be marked by an asterisk. Dancer's Image crossed the line first, but was later found to have had Bute, then an illegal drug, in his urine and was disqualified, handing the victory to runner-up Forward Pass. Some four decades later, details about Dancer's Image and his Kentucky Derby have mostly been forgotten. In his latest book, Kentucky attorney and equine author Milton Toby retells this amazing story, the result of hours of digging through news archives and legal files, so that contemporary followers of horse racing history can fully understand what happened, including some irregularities in the testing methods, which to this day may draw into question the validity of the disqualification.

Toby starts off with a brief narrative about the career of Native Dancer, who would go on to sire Dancer's Image. Peter Fuller sent unproven broodmare Noors Image to Native Dancer, an outcross which he hoped would get him to the Kentucky Derby. The foal was originally named A.T.'s Image, to honor Peter's father Alvan Tufts Fuller. However, the colt inherited his sire's bad ankles and, as Fuller was planning to sell him, he requested the name be changed to Dancer's Image, so that his father's namesake horse wouldn't be running for someone else, and likely losing. Ironically, at auction Fuller's wife convinced him to buy the colt back.

The bad ankles were a constant issue for trainer Lou Cavalaris Jr., but the horses managed to stay sound enough to be successful on the track, including an easy win in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in his final prep for the Kentucky Derby. Shipped to Churchill Downs, he was treated by the "Derby Doc" himself, Alex Harthill, who recommended the horse be given Bute 6 days before the Derby, long enough for the drug to clear his system to be legal to race. At the time, Bute was legal for training but illegal for racing.

Dancer's Image went on to finish first in the Derby by 1 1/2 lengths over Calumet Farm homebred Forward Pass. But it was the aftermath that changed the course of history. Toby gives us a detailed account of what happened, which technicians performed which tests on the urine, and how a sample was even shipped to Nebraska for a second opinion. After the stewards ordered the purse money redistributed, Fuller assembled a legal team for the appeal to the Kentucky racing commission. The lawyers sought to demonstrate errors made by the lab technicians, most notably that they failed to keep enough urine for retesting, having used up the entire sample between their own testing and those done in Nebraska. The commission affirmed the purse redistribution but added that the ruling did not change the order of finish. Fuller appealed to Franklin Circuit Court, which ruled in his favor, but the Kentucky Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, reversed this, so some 5 years later the winner's share of the purse went to Calumet.

Fuller went one final step further, and in retrospect this is what truly changed history. He may have lost the money but he wanted to keep the trophy as the winning owner, as the rules at the time required the purse money be redistributed but did not change the official order of finish. Dancer's Image, under those rules, was still the 1968 Derby winner. However, the racing commission, in a series of meetings that Fuller and his lawyers could not attend as they were held at unusual, secret locations, ruled that Forward Pass is the Derby winner and ordered the trophy be delivered to Calumet Farm. If not for this ruling, the Derby would never have had a disqualification, just a purse redistribution. The commission contradicted their own rule book by this action.

With this work, Toby brings back a story 4 decades old whose details have mostly been forgotten. To a casual follower of racing history, Dancer's Image was disqualified from the win, but the outcome could have been very different. Fuller ran into a "perfect storm" that his high-priced legal team could not overcome. The 1968 Derby may be the famous race's darkest hour and one that we'd rather forget, but it is a story that needed to be told accurately with no stone left unturned. This is an educational read and a real eye-opener for the racing fan who wants to understand just what went wrong in the 94th Derby. An appendix includes the official text of the rulings made by the stewards and the racing commission.

Dancer's Image has a list price of $19.99 and can be purchased from Amazon.com for $13.59.

Rating:     3.5/5

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