We remember people for what they do in the spotlight.
Sometimes it’s not fair, but that’s what we do.
Under the brightest spotlight horse racing provides, Peter Fuller’s horse, Dancer’s Image, won the 1968 Kentucky Derby. One horse had done that each year since 1875, but in terms of what happened shortly after the ’68 Derby, Dancer’s Image stands alone. The horse was disqualified when traces of a banned anti-inflammatory drug were detected a post-race test. That had never happened to a Kentucky Derby winner before. It hasn’t happened since.
So if you look at the list of Derby winners, opposite 1968 you will find Forward Pass, although Peter Fuller battled for several years to clear his horse’s name.
The circumstances of the disqualification were muddy 44 years ago and time hasn’t done much to clarify them. Peter Fuller and his supporters long maintained that his horse’s sample had been contaminated by people who resented Fuller’s politics, the most dramatic manifestation of which became apparent about a month before the 1968 Derby when Dancer’s Image won the Governor’s Gold Cup at Bowie Race Track in Maryland. Peter Fuller donated the purse from that race to Coretta Scott King for the furtherance of the work of her husband, who’d been assassinated three days earlier.
“Dr. King was a great American who died trying to make this country free for all people,” Mr. Fuller said.
A month later in Kentucky, there was speculation that sentiments like that might have provoked person or persons to adulterate the post-race sample provided by the horse that finished first in the Derby. The horse belonging to that Yankee who supported the work of Martin Luther King.
Four years later the result of the 1968 Kentucky Derby was finally official. The Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the Kentucky Racing Commission. Dancer’s Image was denied.
As an amateur boxer, Peter Fuller beat a guy who later beat another amateur named Rocky Marciano, who never lost a professional fight.
As a fellow who continued to raise horses, he prevailed with Mom’s Command, the horse that won the Triple Crown for Fillies in 1985. That must have been fun and then some, since Fuller’s daughter Abby was atop Mom’s Command in each race.
Peter Fuller was, by all accounts, an energetic and determined man who lived an exceptionally full life. He died at the age of 89 on Monday in New Hampshire. His daughter, Abby, said, “He stood up for what he believed in.” That’s a fine thing for which to be remembered.