There has been only one disqualification of the winner of the Kentucky Derby and that came in 1968.  Under today’s medication rules, it would not have occurred.

The first and second favorites in the 1968 Kentucky Derby were Calumet Farm’s Forward Pass and Peter Fuller’s Dancer’s Image, the latter being by the acclaimed racehorse and sire Native Dancer.  Like his sire, Dancer’s Image was a grey.  The colt was trained by Lou Cavalaris and ridden by Bobby Ussery.

The official chart depicted Dancer’s Image 1 ½ length win:

“DANCER’S IMAGE, void of speed through the early stages after being bumped at start, commenced a rally after three-quarters to advance between horses on the second turn, cut back to the inside when clear entering the stretch at which point his rider dropped his whip.  Responding to a vigorous hand ride the colt continued to save ground to take command nearing the furlong marker and was hard pressed to edge FORWARD PASS. “

The post-race urinalysis came back the week after the Derby with the finding that Dancer’s Image’s urine had traces of the anti-inflammatory phenylbutazone, or bute, which was a legal medication in some racing jurisdictions in 1968 but not in Kentucky.  Dr. Alex Harthill, a noted racetrack veterinarian, said that he had administered bute to the colt six days before the Derby, supposedly enough time for the medication to clear the bloodstream.  Skeptics did not buy Harthill’s timeline because of some previous similar episodes the vet was involved in.

Two weeks later in the Preakness, Dancer’s Image was again disqualified after running third for bumping another horse and placed eighth in the ten-entry field.  Plagued by sore ankles, his racing career was over.

Never has a horse been disqualified in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

Fuller spent years and, he said, $250,000 contesting the Derby disqualification, but to no avail.

Dancer’s Image stood at stud in the United States, Ireland, France, and Japan, with moderate success, and died in 1992 at age 27.

By current racing medication standards in the United States, Dancer’s Image won the Kentucky Derby fair and square.  But that was not the case in 1968 and the name inscribed as the winner will forever be Forward Pass.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

The Kentucky Derby history series began on February 20 and concludes on May 1, appearing weekly on Monday.


When a trainer in the United States is found to have run a horse that tests positive for a medication banned by the state racing authority, the trainer is held responsible.  The racing commission rule in Delaware is typical:

“  A finding by the chemist that a foreign substance is present in the test sample shall be prima facie evidence that such foreign substance was administered and carried in the body of the horse while participating in a race.  Such a finding shall also be taken as prima facie evidence that the Trainer and agents responsible for the care or custody of the horse has/have been negligent in the handling or care of the horse.”

While “the trainer” is named in this rule, so are “agents,” which is construed to mean unspecified other parties.  However, the meaning of “agents” is vague: does the word refer to assistant trainers, stable foremen, veterinarians, and owners?

Whenever a trainer is suspended for medication violations, his or her horses are usually transferred to another licensed trainer.  This may be a ruse, a transfer to another trainer in name only.

Contrast the way doping is policed in United States horse racing with the rules and penalties of the Federation Equestre International.  This worldwide governing body for horse sports holds responsible for a drug violation the person (rider or driver) who competes with the horse or the horse’s handler.  These people are immediately and automatically suspended if a horse tests positive.  Once the FEI investigates, any other individuals who participated in, or had knowledge of, the doping are also penalized.

The preset penalty for doping is a two-year suspension.  A person can get this penalty reduced or eliminated only if he or she can prove no fault to a hearing panel.  In order to do this, he or she must identify the party or parties who doped the horse.

The U. S. Equine Federation recently followed the lead of the Federation Equestre International by seeking to identify and sanction all persons who are responsible for a doping violation, although the U. S. rules are not as stringent.

American horse racing could improve its reputation for integrity among bettors and the general public were state racing authorities to adopt the approach of the Federation Equestre International.  A trainer should not be the only individual to be sanctioned for violations if it can be shown that other individuals were partly or entirely to blame.

Further, suspending, for 45-60 days, a horse that was found to be running on a banned medication would encourage owners to stay away from training stables with a history of drug violations.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


The Indianapolis 500 was not run from 1942-1945 due to World War II and a number of other prominent sports events were suspended as well. The Kentucky Derby was also in jeopardy in 1943 and 1944.

In his 1945 memoir, Down the Stretch, Matt Winn, longtime president of Churchill Downs, said that the 1943 Kentucky Derby was, in his mind, “the greatest Derby” because it was held at all.

In February of 1943, the U. S. Office of Defense Transportation (ODT) asked Americans to forgo unnecessary travel.  ODT’s written statement specifically noted that ODT would be requesting that the Kentucky Derby be called off, as railroads were clogged with war-related traffic.

Winn explained his response to ODT:

“My answer was made up of several parts.  First, I advised that special trains had not been run to Louisville since 1941; that they had been cancelled in 1942.  I told the ODT that we would cooperate in every possible way to discourage passenger travel into Louisville, if such travel merely was to see the running of the Derby.  I explained that our only concern was to run the Derby; that we were not concerned about how large, or how small, the crowd.”

Winn described how the ODT asked for a list of Derby boxholders who lived out of town, and followed up by sending them letters with a request to forgo travel to Louisville for the race.  Boxholders complied and most did not accept Churchill Downs’ offer to refund their money, but instead donated their seats to members of the military located nearby Louisville, such as at Fort Knox.

The 1943 Kentucky Derby became known as the “Street Car Derby” and attracted a crowd of 65,000.

Winn summed up the day:

“None of those who were at the 69th Derby could be forgetful that a world conflict raged.  The swirl of men in all the uniforms of the Armed Forces was a grim reminder.  Yet for that one afternoon there was a lulling of the life that is; the life of a war-torn world; there was a short return to the pattern of the peaceful, happy life that was.”

(Winn dedicated his memoirs—dated July 3, 1944–to his grandsons, one in the Navy and the other in the Marines, who were “somewhere in the battle zones.”)

In 1944, Churchill Downs reprised the Street Car Derby.  The 1945 Kentucky Derby was held on May 5 and three days later American celebrated “Victory in Europe.”

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

The Kentucky Derby series began on February 20 and ends on May 1, with articles appearing weekly on Monday.