1968 Kentucky Derby – Dancer’s Image disqualification

HRTV released this information about their weekend show “Inside Information”. The next edition of HRTV’s award-winning Inside Information: Dancer’s Image, on Sunday, July 14 at 8:30 p.m. ET (5:30 PM West Coast Time), will be expanded to a special one-hour format to present an in-depth retrospective on one of Thoroughbred racing’s landmark cases, which will recount the machinations of the decision, along with revealing interviews with key people directly involved.

The disqualification of Dancer’s Image from winning the 1968 Kentucky Derby remains the only disqualification of a winner in the storied history of the Triple Crown. It was unquestionably one of the sport’s most controversial decisions and still leaves unanswered questions 45 years later.

Dancer’s Image, ridden by Bobby Ussery, rallied from last to win the Derby, besting Calumet Farms’ Forward Pass, but was later disqualified, and placed 14th and last, when traces of the illegal substance Phenylbutazone, known commonly as “Bute,” were found in his system.

That decision obviously rankled many at that time, including Dancer’s Image’s owner, Peter Fuller. In its wake it left a host of non-definitive speculation about the circumstances and any concrete explanations remain a mystery. Inside Information’s thorough documentary serves to outline many of the unproven theories.

Prominent veterinarian Alex Harthill, whose long career included several other implications of improprieties, had given Dancer’s Image a dose of “Bute” almost a week prior to the Derby, which normally would not trigger the positive test.

The failed test spawned a host of conjecture, including: drug sample tampering, switched samples, wrong test results, possible favoritism to iconic Calumet Farms, and another very compelling hypothesis.

Prior to the Derby, Fuller contributed some of Dancer’s Image’s winnings to Coretta Scott King, the widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, which was not well-received by many people in the South. That led some to surmise that the positive test may have been a backlash to the donation and Fuller’s general support of the civil rights movement.

Fuller vigorously fought to have the Derby decision overturned in court for the succeeding five years, but was ultimately unsuccessful. He died in 2012 at age 89.

Inside Information’s exhaustive research includes interviews with many that have their own recollections surrounding the controversy, including: Joan Fuller, Abby Fuller, and Peter Fuller, Jr., the owner’s wife, daughter, and son respectively; jockey Ussery; attorney Edward S. “Ned” Bonnie; noted sports writer Billy Reed, and author Milton C. Toby.

It will be great to see Billy Reed’s comments on Dancer’s Image. Billy Reed has participated in our Kentucky Derby Tours for almost 20 years, giving us his insight to the horses running in the Kentucky Derby at our Kentucky Oaks breakfast.