Stanley Dancer, one of harness racing's most famous drivers and trainers, who guided horses to three Triple Crowns and seven horse-of-the-year titles, died Thursday at his home in Pompano Beach, Fla. He was 78.
Dancer had been in failing health in recent years, the U.S. Trotting Assn. said. He had undergone several operations for back injuries suffered while racing and had battled prostate cancer.
The son of a New Egypt, N.J., potato farmer, Dancer won 3,781 races with horses that earned $28 million. He drove Nevele Pride to a sweep of the trotting Triple Crown in 1968, won the pacing Triple Crown with Most Happy Fella in 1970 and won another trotting Triple Crown with Super Bowl in 1972.
"For the generation that followed harness racing ... during its halcyon years in the 1960s, Stanley Dancer was the sport," said Stan Bergstein, executive vice president of Harness Tracks of America.
Dancer's horses of the year were Su Mac Lad, Nevele Pride, Albatross and Keystone Ore. The first, Su Mac Lad, came in 1962. Nevele Pride won three titles, in 1967-69, and Albatross was champion in 1971-72. Keystone Ore was horse of the year in 1976.
During the old Western Harness meet in California, Dancer drove Su Mac Lad, Nevele Pride and Albatross in races at Hollywood Park.
Dancer won the Hambletonian, the first race in the trotting Triple Crown, five times. He drove in the race 21 times.
His most dramatic win came at the Meadowlands in New Jersey in 1983. Three weeks before the race, Dancer's Crown, a horse Dancer had named and the likely Hambletonian favorite, died after undergoing surgery for an intestinal ailment.
Dancer was devastated, but decided to stay in the race when the opportunity to drive Duenna came along. They won, as Duenna became the first filly winner of the stake in 17 years.
In 1965, Dancer became the first driver whose horses earned $1 million in one year. In the 1960s, he drove Cardigan Bay, the first harness horse to earn $1 million. They appeared together on television's "The Ed Sullivan Show," and Dancer was toasted by President Johnson at the White House.
"The horse business was like never having worked at all," Dancer once said. "I've been blessed by some of the greatest horses of all time."
Dancer, whose formal education stopped before high school, won his first race at Freehold Raceway in New Jersey in 1945. In 1949, he moved to the major tracks in New York, Roosevelt Raceway and Yonkers Raceway, and turned the sport upside down. He drove aggressively, frequently winning races after grabbing quick leads, and forced rival drivers to change their styles.
Starting in 1952, Dancer ranked in the top 10 nationally in both wins and purses for 20 straight years. He ranked first or second in purses 10 times.
His last race was a winner, in 1995 with Lifelong Victory in the New Jersey Sires Stakes at Garden State Park in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Dancer survived 32 spills on the track, four automobile accidents and helicopter and light plane accidents. He carried with him a picture of a 6-inch zipper scar that started at the back of his hairline and went down his neck.
Survivors include his wife, Jody; two sons; two daughters; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Dancer will be buried at a cemetery that is across the street from Freehold Raceway.