Dancer's Image

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Dancer's Image
Sire Native Dancer
Grandsire Polynesian
Dam Noors Image
Damsire Noor
Sex Stallion
Foaled 1965
Country United States
Colour Gray
Breeder Ryemeadow Farms
Owner Peter Fuller
Trainer Lou Cavalaris, Jr.
Record 24: 12-5-1
Earnings $236,636
Major wins
Clarendon Stakes (1967)
Grey Stakes (1967)
Vandal Stakes (1967)
Maryland Futurity Stakes (1967)
Wood Memorial Stakes (1968)
Kentucky Derby (disqualified) (1968)
Last updated on May 18, 2010

Dancer's Image (April 10, 1965 – December 26, 1992) was an American Thoroughbred racehorse who is the only winner in the history of the Kentucky Derby to have been disqualified. Owned and bred by businessman Peter Fuller, the son of former Massachusetts Governor Alvan T. Fuller, the colt was trained by Lou Cavalaris, Jr. and ridden in the Derby by jockey Bobby Ussery.

Racing history

At age two, Dancer's Image won graded stakes races in Maryland and at Woodbine Racetrack in Ontario, Canada. At age three, in the lead-up to the 1968 U.S. Triple Crown races, he won several more races including the Grade I Wood Memorial Stakes. For the Kentucky Derby, he was a second choice among bettors to Calumet Farm's Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes winner Forward Pass.[1] Plagued by sore ankles, on the Sunday prior to the Derby, the handlers of Dancer's Image had a veterinarian give him a tablet of phenylbutazone, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory commonly used to relieve inflammation of the joints which was legal at many race tracks in the United States at the time but not at Churchill Downs. Following dosage, the medication would dissipate from the horse's system during the six days before the Derby. Phenylbutazone in 2010 was one of the most commonly used medications in horse racing.[2] By 1986, phenylbutazone was so commonly used that in the 1986 Kentucky Derby, thirteen of the sixteen horses entered were running on the medication.[3] Forty years after the disqualification, owner Peter Fuller still believes he was a victim of a set-up, due to his being a wealthy civil rights sympathizer from Boston who offended the Kentucky racing aristocracy by donating Dancer's $62,000 prize for a previous victory to Coretta Scott King two days after her husband's murder.[4]

1968 Kentucky Derby

Dancer's Image won the 1968 Kentucky Derby but was disqualified to last after traces of phenylbutazone were discovered in the mandatory post-race urinalysis. Second-place finisher Forward Pass was declared the winner. The controversy filled the sporting news of every media outlet in North America and was the cover story for Sports Illustrated magazine, which referred to it as the sports story of the year. Owner Peter Fuller and the horse's handlers believed someone else may have been motivated to give the colt another dose of the drug and filed an appeal of the disqualification.

The Kentucky State Racing Commission examined the matter and ordered distribution of the purse with first money to Forward Pass. Fuller took legal action, and in December 1970 a Kentucky Court awarded first-place money to Dancer's Image.[5] That decision was overturned on appeal in April 1972 by Kentucky's highest court in Kentucky State Racing Comm'n v. Fuller, 481 S.W.2d 298 (Ky. 1972).

As at 2008, the Churchill Downs media guide for the Derby includes the official chart showing Dancer's Image as the winner.[6] Controversy and speculation still surround the incident, and the New York Times calls the ruling the "most controversial Kentucky Derby ever".[7]

Dancer's Image ran in the 1968 Preakness Stakes, finishing third to Forward Pass. However, he was disqualified again and set back to eighth place, this time for bumping the horse Martins Jig. Continued ankle problems resulted in Dancer's Image being retired after the race. In 2008, after further speculation of the drug controversy Dancer's Image was awarded back its trophy and winnings. They remain at Runnymede farm to this day.


Dancer's Image was syndicated and sent to stand at stud at Glade Valley Farms in Frederick, Maryland. Eventually his owners sold the colt, and in 1974 he was sent to breeders in Ireland, then in 1979 to Haras du Quesnay at Deauville, France, owned by renowned breeder Alec Head.[8] During his time in Europe he had success with sprinters including the Group One winners Godswalk, Lianga and Saritamer. Dancer's Image was later sent to stand at stud in Japan, where he died at age 27 on December 26, 1992.[9]