BOSTON — The bitterness has faded, but the fantastic irony fails to escape Peter Fuller as he readies a return to Churchill Downs with his daughter as a rider.
"You couldn't have come up with a better scenario if you were a Hollywood scriptwriter," Fuller said with a laugh. "Coming back to Churchill Downs with my daughter riding my horse. That's piling it on a little thick."
Fuller's filly Mom's Command, ridden by his daughter Abby, scored a striking 18-length victory in her 3-year-old debut March 23 at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course, in the $32,550 Flirtation Stakes.
The filly has been nominated for the 1-mile Kentucky Derby, but will likely race instead in the shorter Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 3, a 1 1/8-mile race for fillies on the day before Derby Day.
It will be Fuller's first trip to Churchill Downs since May 4, 1968, when his gray colt, Dancer's Image, rallied from last place in a field of 14 to win the 94th Kentucky Derby by a length and a half.
The horse was later stripped of his championship by the Kentucky Racing Commission when traces of the then-illicit drug phenylbutazone, a pain-killer, were found in a urine sample. Use of the drug, known around the paddock as "Bute," is now legal in Kentucky.
Following a tortuous four-year court battle, Calumet Farms' Forward Pass, the second-place finisher, was awarded the 1968 Derby title and the $122,600 first-place purse.
"Time heals all wounds, I guess," said Fuller, 62, watching his daughter finish dead last aboard a 28-1 shot named Card Shark at Suffolk Downs, a race track near Boston's Logan Airport.
"It took a while for the hurt to fade, but to be honest, I felt really badly for the horse (Dancer's Image). In the pedigree records in the United States, unlike in Europe and Japan, the disqualification is not written in. It's never even mentioned that he won."
Dancer's Image, age 20, now stands at stud in Japan, following stints in Maryland, Ireland and France. He has sired more than 20 stakes winners.
"He's done very well at stud," said Fuller, who sold Dancer's Image years ago to an international art dealer for $1.5 million. "The secret is that he had relatively tender ankles so his offspring run well on turf, and that's what they race on in Europe and Japan."
Fuller, son of former Massachusetts Gov. Alvan T. Fuller (1925-1929), has kept a low profile in recent years. His Cadillac dealership, a five-story landmark on Boston's Commonwealth Avenue, closed in 1978.
The millionaire sportsman oversees many other investments and spends a lot of time at Suffolk Downs, where his 25-year-old daughter is one of this year's top jockeys. Her wins include eight stakes in the past two years.
"I'm just puffing my chest up over Abby," said the proud father, who seems to know everyone from stable boys to security guards at Suffolk Downs.
Fuller said he has not boycotted Churchill Downs over the past 17 years, but just hasn't had a good reason to return.
"The only way I wanted to go back to the Derby and Churchill Downs is with a horse," he said. "Once you've had a horse in the race there's no sense in just hanging around there.
"Right now it's just a tremendous thrill to have a horse that's qualified to run. It's not like going down there with a nag. Coming down with some iron, now that's a lot of fun."
Fuller said Mom's Command is "my best since Dancer's Image, and the fastest I've ever had, including Dancer's Image." The chestnut horse, daughter of Top Command and Star Mommie, won nearly $275,000 and four stakes races as a 2-year-old.
The filly will likely race twice next month at Garden State in New Jersey, then move on to Churchill Downs.
Trainer Ned Allard said Mom's Command was "just awesome" in the 6-furlong Flirtation Stakes, but "still has to prove she can make it in the classic distances. She's got tremendous speed up to a mile."
"It's probably going to be the Oaks instead of the Derby," Allard said. "History shows that very few fillies beat the colts in major events. It can happen, but if you're wrong, it can do a number on your horse and you end up with half a horse."
Either race would be fine for Abby Fuller, who was only 8 when her father's colt won--then lost--the 1968 Run for the Roses.
"I'm just really excited. Mom's Command is certainly the best horse I've ever ridden. I don't really think about (the 1968 Derby). I'm just glad I get to ride a great filly in Kentucky."