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THE 1968 KENTUCKY DERBY : THE VICTORY THAT WASN'T : Dancer's Image, Who Finished First, Was Disqualified After Positive Test for Illegal Medication

May 01, 1988|BILL CHRISTINE | Times Staff Writer

But after winning the Preakness, Forward Pass became racing's problem horse. If he won the Belmont Stakes, could Forward Pass be declared a genuine Triple Crown champion? Would he be declared the Triple Crown champion and then be stripped of the honor by the courts years later?

Stage Door Johnny, who hadn't run in the Derby or the Preakness and who in fact won the first race of his life less than a month before the Belmont, solved that problem. Running in his first stake, he beat Forward Pass by 1 lengths.

Forward Pass won one more race and was retired because of weak ankles, not unlike Dancer's Image's. Stage Door Johnny was voted champion 3-year-old colt. The voters didn't know what to do with Forward Pass, a horse who may or may not have won the Kentucky Derby.

Calumet sold Forward Pass to breeding interests in Japan in 1977, and at 15 he died there, of stomach complications, on Dec. 1, 1980.

THE OUTCAST

The Preakness was Dancer's Image's last race. The ankle that he injured in Kentucky required cortisone injections before the Preakness, and then it appeared to get worse in a workout before the Belmont.

Fuller actually had his wife, Joan, to thank for the colt's 12 wins and more than $200,000 in purses. Early in 1967, Lou Cavalaris told Fuller that he had some better unraced 2-year-olds and Dancer's Image was consigned to an auction at Hialeah.

Johnny Nerud was bidding for the horse when Joan Fuller turned to Peter and said: "I think he's a beautiful horse. Why don't we keep him?"

Fuller went to $26,000 on his own horse and Nerud gave up.

Dancer's Image was syndicated for $2 million, but American breeding catalogues refused to list him as the first-place finisher in the Derby, something that infuriated Fuller almost as much as losing his long appeal.

No longer welcome in Kentucky, Dancer's Image started at stud in Maryland, where he had been foaled, was moved to Ireland in 1974, then to France and in 1979 was sent to Japan, two years after Forward Pass' arrival. Now 23 and snow white, Dancer's Image stands for a stud fee that ranges from $5,000 to $7,800.

CANCELED APPEARANCE

Ussery won all three of his starts aboard Dancer's Image before the 1968 Kentucky Derby.

Like Fuller, Ussery also still has his Derby trophy and displays it proudly at his home in a Miami suburb.

The Monday after the Kentucky Derby, Ussery rode at Aqueduct and got a standing ovation when he was introduced to the crowd.

On Tuesday, Ussery was golfing when news of the disqualification reached him. "I quit right there and went home," he said.

In 1967, after winning the Derby with Proud Clarion, Ussery was a guest on "The Ed Sullivan Show." He was invited back in 1968, but the Sullivan people told him to forget about it after the disqualification. Instead, Ussery was asked to appear on Johnny Carson's late-night show.

"All they wanted to talk about was Bute," Ussery said. "I told them I knew a lot about horses, but I didn't know anything about Bute."

TWICE-BLESSED

In 1958, when Ismael (Milo) Valenzuela won the first Kentucky Derby he ever rode in, with Tim Tam, he got lucky. Bill Hartack had been riding Tim Tam, but had broken his leg in a spill and Valenzuela had taken over.

Ten years later, Don Brumfield was riding Forward Pass, but he got food poisoning just before the Blue Grass and Valenzuela substituted and won the race. Keeping the mount eight days later, Valenzuela and Forward Pass became the winners of sorts in the Derby.

The 53-year-old Valenzuela, who failed to win with his other five Derby mounts, now trains horses in Southern California after retiring from riding in the late 1970s because of weight and back problems.

Valenzuela says that Alex Harthill and Leslie Combs of Spendthrift Farm helped him get the assignment on Forward Pass by mentioning his name favorably to Lucille Markey of Calumet Farm. Valenzuela was a guest at Harthill's home the week of the Derby.

Valenzuela finished a round of golf and was on his way back to Churchill Downs to ride when he heard the news of Dancer's Image's disqualification on the car radio.

"I thought they had to be kidding," Valenzuela said. "But when I got inside the jocks' room, the clerk of scales told me that it had really happened."

In those days, it was common for jockeys to "save"--splitting their shares of the purse money if they rode a multiple entry. While Peter Fuller was battling the Kentucky Racing Commission, Valenzuela suggested to Bobby Ussery that they save.

"No matter who won, I told him we could split it," Valenzuela said. "75-25, 60-40, I didn't care. But at least that way, both of us would get something. But Ussery said he was going to win it all on the appeal."

In 1973, Valenzuela collected his 10% of the winning purse--a pay-off of about $14,000, counting the 6% interest that had been added on for five years. For the 1968 Derby, Ussery got the standard mount fee--$50. Actually, Ussery got nothing. He gave the money to his valet before leaving the Churchill Downs jockeys' room.

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