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THE 1968 KENTUCKY DERBY : THE VICTORY THAT WASN’T : Dancer’s Image, Who Finished First, Was Disqualified After Positive Test for Illegal Medication

Times Staff Writer

In Florida, Bobby Ussery, the Hall of Fame jockey who now weighs 160 pounds, hands you his business card. It reads:

ROBERT USSERY Kentucky Derby Winner Of ’67 & ’68

A picture on the card is about the size of two postage stamps, but it clearly shows Ussery aboard Dancer’s Image in the winner’s circle after the 1968 Derby, with Peter Fuller, the horse’s owner, holding the reins and motioning to people in front of him to join the celebration.

But, uh, Bobby, about this card . . .

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“I know they took the Derby away from Dancer’s Image,” says a puffy, bright-eyed Ussery, now a 53-year-old jockey’s agent and bloodstock salesman. “But we were first across the finish line, they paid off the people that bet on him, and that’s good enough for me.”

Ussery was also first across the Churchill Downs finish line in 1967 with Proud Clarion--a result that counted--and for more than 48 hours in 1968 he had the distinction of being the first jockey in 66 years to win the Kentucky Derby in consecutive years.

But on the night of May 4, 1968, in a mobile laboratory on the Churchill Downs grounds, an assistant racing chemist for the Commonwealth of Kentucky ran a $9.50 test by acidifying with sulfuric acid a urine sample taken from Dancer’s Image after the race. He called Kenny Smith, Kentucky’s head racing chemist, who was attending a post-Derby party at Louisville’s Audubon Country Club.

“We got a Bute positive from today,” Smith was told.

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Knowing only that the positive test for Butazolidin--a painkiller known generically as phenylbutazone--came from 1 of almost 100 horses that raced on Derby day, Smith went to his permanent lab on Sunday and re-tested the sample three or four times. The results were the same.

Still not knowing that the sample belonged to Dancer’s Image, Smith phoned Lewis Finley, one of the Churchill Downs stewards, and told him what they had.

That Tuesday, while Bobby Ussery played golf in New York, and Ismael (Milo) Valenzuela, the jockey who rode Forward Pass to a second-place finish, was on a golf course in Louisville, Wathen Knebelkamp, the president of Churchill Downs, announced that because of the test, Dancer’s Image had been dropped to last place and the Derby victory was given to Forward Pass.

The Kentucky Derby usually takes about two minutes to run. The slowest Derby, on the track, was 2:15 1/5, in 1908, but the 1968 Derby lasted almost five years. On April 14, 1973, $150,000 in legal fees and 4,022 pages of testimony later, Peter Fuller gave up. The $122,600 first prize, plus the interest it had accrued in an escrow account in a Louisville bank, were given to Calumet Farm and Forward Pass. The 1968 Kentucky Derby was finally over.

On March 6, 1974, Butazolidin was legalized by the Kentucky Racing Commission. Said to have the effect on horses of aspirin on humans, the anti-inflammatory medication is legal in most racing states and most horses that run in the Kentucky Derby are treated with it.

“It was legal before Dancer’s Image, too,” Ussery said. “Venetian Way had it when he won the Derby in ’60. I was second on Bally Ache that year.”

The shock of having won and then lost the Kentucky Derby didn’t hit Peter and Joan Fuller until they were en route home to Boston the Tuesday after the race. They were to be guests of honor at a party that included John Volpe, the governor of Massachusetts.

The Fullers’ plane made a stopover in New York, and they noticed someone boarding with a New York Post carrying the headline:

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DERBY WINNER DOPED

“It was the biggest headline I ever saw,” Peter Fuller said. “It took up the whole front page. You would have thought we had gotten into another war.”

The man carrying the newspaper settled into a seat near the Fullers and said to the person next to him: “They’ll do anything to win the Derby, won’t they?”

Overhearing, Joan Fuller turned to her husband and said: “Who’s he talking about?”

“Thee and me,” Peter Fuller said.

In Boston, the party went on as scheduled. “We had been on Cloud 9 one day, and now we were involved in the darndest thing,” Peter Fuller said. “Instead of a party, it was like a rally, with the hue and cry about what we were going to do to right this wrong.”

One of Fuller’s attorneys was Ned Bonnie, who still practices in Louisville.

“Those were tough days for everybody,” Bonnie said the other day. “The case provided a great study in human nature and personal integrity. The whole truth was never known.”

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Fuller won the first round in court when, in December of 1970, a Kentucky county judge said that the racing commission’s disqualification was based on evidence “wholly lacking in substance.” But the final round, three years later, went to Forward Pass.

Once the owner of the largest Cadillac dealership in Boston, and before that a collegiate boxer, Fuller knew all about the round system.

“I thought I was being pushed around, and I don’t take kindly to that,” Fuller said. “I think from the outset, it hurt me being the outsider. I was the new guy in the game from abolitionist Boston. It would be the happiest day of my life to come back and run in the Derby. That would be a lot of fun.”

Fuller’s best horse since Dancer’s Image was Mom’s Command, voted the national 3-year-old filly champion in 1985. Mom’s Command was mostly ridden by Abby Fuller, one of the owner’s seven daughters.

A 9-year-old Abby Fuller, attending her first horse race, was part of that winner’s circle melee at Churchill Downs in 1968, clutching a red rose and ducking the adults, who for a time seemed likely to unintentionally trample her.

If there had to be a scandal at the Kentucky Derby, 1968 was probably a fitting year for it. History may very well have ordained it, what with the rest of the country seemingly coming apart at the seams.

“The Year of the Barricades” is how David Caute’s recent book labels 1968, which, besides being scarred by the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, accounted for Mayor Richard Daley’s “shoot to kill” order to the Chicago police, the hatching of the Yippies, an anti-war march on the Pentagon, campus riots, the head-cracking Democratic convention and the instant celebrity of Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman and the black-power salutes by U.S. athletes at the Mexico City Olympics.

Peter Fuller theorizes about a remote connection between the Dancer’s Image affair and King. “After all these years, I still don’t have a clue to what actually happened,” Fuller says. “But I can speculate.”

Fuller’s hero when he boxed was Joe Louis, and the horse owner, while a trustee at Boston University, met King and came to espouse his civil rights cause. Two days after King was killed in Memphis, Tenn., Dancer’s Image won the Governor’s Gold Cup in Bowie, Md., and Fuller quietly sent the winner’s share of the purse--more than $60,000--to the newly widowed Coretta King.

Before the Derby, Win Elliot, the broadcaster, found out about Fuller’s largess and put the story on the air.

“Rev. King had staged a sit-in in Louisville in 1967 and there had been demonstrations at the Derby, and I know that that hadn’t endeared him to the big shots back there,” Fuller said. “I’ve always wondered if what happened to the horse could have come in retaliation for my support of King.”

The security at Churchill Downs wasn’t nearly as good then as it is now.

“It got better after Dancer’s Image,” says Lou Cavalaris, who trained Fuller’s gray son of Native Dancer. “Maybe at least that good was achieved from what happened.”

A former Churchill Downs official suggests, however, that Cavalaris’ own barn security was lax.

“There was usually no one around that horse, if you wanted to get to him,” he said. “He was an abused horse, and he was sore. There was a groom there sometimes, and the shape he was in, you wondered what good he could be.”

Dancer’s Image ran 15 times as a 2-year-old, and by the time he got to the Derby had run 22 races. His 12 wins were 3 more than any other starter in the 14-horse field.

Henry Forrest, who trained Forward Pass, winner of the Florida Derby and the Blue Grass and the 2-1 Derby favorite, thought even before race day that he could beat Dancer’s Image and Iron Ruler, who would be the next two choices in the betting.

“If I can’t beat that big s.o.b. (Dancer’s Image), I’ll give up training,” Forrest told friends. “And Iron Ruler, he’s so sore he can’t even walk.”

The consistent Iron Ruler, never worse than third in 16 previous races, went off at 5-1 and finished 12th. Those who believe a conspiracy theory surmised that Iron Ruler could have been tampered with, too.

Trainer Marion Van Berg, in Louisville to accept an award from the turf writers, saw Dancer’s Image at the barn early during Derby week and said: “I’ve got $2,500 horses who aren’t as sore as that colt. How can they be thinking of running him in the Kentucky Derby?”

Late in the week, Alex Harthill, the nationally known Louisville veterinarian who was treating Dancer’s Image, told Cavalaris: “There’s nothing I can do for that horse. You guys are on your own.”

After winning the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct just two weeks before the Derby, Dancer’s Image arrived at Churchill Downs and frequently spent long hours standing in a tub of ice water.

At odds of 7-2 at post time, second only to Forward Pass, Dancer’s Image had almost every reason to lose. He broke from the No. 12 stall, inside of just two horses. He was bumped in a chain reaction from the outside at the start and down the backstretch, and with Kentucky Sherry, a field horse, in the lead, Dancer’s Image trailed by about 15 lengths.

Dancer’s Image began passing horses on the far turn. Ussery angled him to the inside at the top of the stretch, but the jockey dropped his whip with three-sixteenths of a mile to run. They passed Forward Pass just inside the eighth pole and won by 1 1/2 lengths, with Ussery using his hand instead of the misplaced stick.

“I was the most flabbergasted person there when that horse won,” Harthill said. “It was an unbelievable thing, because his ankles looked awful. It just showed that what I spent a lifetime learning amounted to just nothing.”

THE PUNCHER

Alex Harthill, the 62-year-old veterinarian who has cared for many of racing’s most prominent horses for about four decades, reminds another horseman of a friend:

“This guy made a lot of money in the bar business. He’d go for $500 or more for a suit or topcoat, and he’d buy them at the fanciest stores, always paying cash. But then he had to pick up a pair of socks or a handkerchief and stick them in his pocket on the way out.

“Alex makes all that money because he’s such a great veterinarian and everybody wants him. But why does he have to get into all these jackpots, too? Why does he have to go for the pair of socks on the way out?”

During Derby week at Churchill Downs, Dancer’s Image was stabled in barn 24, where Harthill also maintained an office. A local trainer, Doug Davis, also had horses in the barn.

According to testimony Cavalaris gave racing investigators, the trainer went to his barn the Monday after the Derby and saw Hart- hill and Davis mashing white pills into granules and mixing them into a sack of oats. Minutes later, in the feed room next to Dancer’s Image’s stall, Cavalaris saw a trap door in the back open. Davis stuck his head into the opening, Cavalaris said, and threw the sack into the feed room.

“What’s going on?” Cavalaris asked as Harthill approached along the shed row.

“We’re in trouble and we’ve got to do something,” Harthill said.

When Harthill and Davis left, Cavalaris said, he emptied the bag Davis had left, examined the contents and then swept them into a manure bin. Cavalaris said he then checked a bag of bran and found it to be about half filled with white granules. He tasted them and found them to be bitter.

In February of 1969, Harthill and Davis told the Kentucky Racing Commission that they put aspirin--not an illegal drug--in Dancer’s Image’s feed and, given the choice of $500 fines or 30-day suspensions for “improper conduct,” paid the fines.

In a recent interview, Harthill said that he and Davis mixed Butazolidin--the illegal drug--in the oats and bran.

“It was Doug’s idea,” Harthill said. “He said that Cavalaris was over at a motel near the airport, and that he was going crazy because he had just heard about the positive. Doug had the imagination of a 10-year-old child. He wanted to test this guy’s sincerity, so we did something that was in no way logical. It was phantasmagoric, it was something out of the ‘Wizard of Oz.’ ”

Asked why he participated in the scheme, Harthill said: “Sometimes you go along and do things. When things get stressful, you just do things.”

Harthill remembers treating Dancer’s Image with Butazolidin after his final pre-Derby workout the Sunday before the race. Cavalaris recalls the workout being on Monday, and Daily Racing Form records corroborate this. Either way, the Butazolidin--which was legal when used for training--was theoretically supposed to be gone from the colt’s system in 72 hours, which would have been the Thursday before the race at the latest.

“I did what the trainer asked me to do,” Harthill said. “If he had asked me to give him strychnine, I would have done it. But that was the only time that week I gave the horse Bute.”

Harthill was asked if Dancer’s Image, considering his soreness, could have possibly won the Derby without Bute. “Yes, he could have,” the veterinarian said. “You see sore horses sometimes do special things because they’ve got big motors, something you can’t measure. Yes, he could have won with just hay, water and oats.”

Dancer’s Image ran in the Preakness two weeks after the Derby, and was disqualified again, but for a different reason. Forward Pass won at Pimlico by 6 lengths, with Dancer’s Image moved down from third place to eighth by the stewards because Ussery tried to shoe-horn him through a hole that wasn’t there at the eighth pole.

In the week after the Preakness, the Louisville Courier-Journal was still pursuing the Derby story and Billy Reed, a reporter for the newspaper, appeared at Harthill’s barn at Churchill Downs. Their stories differ in detail, but what is not argued is that Harthill punched Reed and knocked him down.

“Wathen Knebelkamp called me and asked if I’d talk to Billy,” Harthill says. “He got to the barn an hour before he was supposed to, and started taking pictures and talking to the grooms and the help.

“When it came time for the interview, I told him about this, and one word led to another and I poked him. He dropped his camera and I picked it up and took a picture of him, lying on the ground.”

THE PUNCHED

A couple of days after the announcement of Dancer’s Image’s Derby disqualification, Reed and Jim Bolus, another Louisville Courier-Journal reporter, were leaving the office late at night and decided to visit barn 24 just to see how the security really was. They stopped and bought a bag of those silver-dollar-sized hamburgers en route to Churchill Downs.

“We drove right through the gate to barn 24 without anybody stopping us,” Reed said. “When we got out of the car, I crinkled up the hamburger sack several times, to make as much noise as I could. The guard, who was in his 70s, was sound asleep. We had to shake him to wake him up. So much for the security and being able to get to the horse.”

The week after the Preakness, Reed said he wanted to talk to Harthill because it had been whispered in Louisville that the veterinarian might have been involved in the Derby affair. Harthill had done a lot of work on horses for Calumet Farm, which raced Forward Pass, and the Courier-Journal found through checking telephone records that there had been a number of phone calls between Harthill and Lewis Finley, the Churchill Downs steward.

“Knebelkamp had nothing to do with setting up the interview; I just went out to the track,” Reed says. “I had my camera. I had never met Harthill, but when he came up to me, I stuck out my right hand and started to introduce myself. He grabbed that hand, and then he hit me with a roundhouse left.

“I was on my back, and he’d knocked my glasses off. I was dazed, and if he took my picture, it never came out. But I can remember him standing over me and saying something like, ‘What are you doing, calling Mexico, asking about whether I bet the (Derby) future book?’ ”

THE FIRED PUBLICITY MAN

With a name like Kelso Sturgeon, how could he have been anything else but a race-tracker?

Sturgeon, the public relations director at Churchill Downs in 1968, received a phone call on the Monday night after the Derby from Knebelkamp. The track president told Sturgeon that the Derby winner had tested positive and that Sturgeon would be needed at a staff meeting early the next morning.

“I won’t tell you their names, but some people who went on to high places in racing were at that meeting,” Sturgeon said. “And several of them didn’t want to announce (Dancer’s Image’s positive test). They wanted to sweep it under the rug. I started to tell Wathen that we couldn’t do that, that too many people already knew, when he cut me off.”

According to Sturgeon, Knebelkamp said: “I don’t have to hear that. We’re going to announce it not because of that, but because it’s the right thing to do.”

A little later that morning, at the Louisville Times, sports editor Dean Eagle was reading news coming in over the teletype when the bulletin about Dancer’s Image hit him between the eyes.

Eagle, a golfing buddy of Knebelkamp, was furious because the Louisville Times hadn’t been alerted to the story. Before the year was over, Sturgeon was dismissed by Churchill Downs.

“I gave it to two people--AP and the Times--so that they could get their stories ready by the time we made the announcement,” Sturgeon says. “AP moved its story, but I don’t know what happened with the Times. Now, I would handle it differently. But let me tell you about Knebelkamp. He was all class and all guts all the way through that thing.”

Sturgeon that it was his impression that there was very little testing of horses at Churchill Downs in those days. Dancer’s Image’s positive was the first at a Kentucky track in six years. The policy was to test only two horses a race--the winner and one other at random. One of Fuller’s arguments was that Forward Pass was never tested.

“Theoretically, there was supposed to be regular testing, but I question how much was actually done,” Sturgeon said. “There were some trainers there who won a lot of races, and they did what they had to do in order to win.”

THE BITTER CHEMIST

Because of racing’s trainer-responsibility rule, it didn’t matter whether Lou Cavalaris knew that Dancer’s Image was given an illegal medication shortly before the Derby. Cavalaris was responsible for the condition of the horse even if the drug was given without his knowledge.

Said Bonnie, the attorney: “What we had to prove was that the test wasn’t valid or that the drug wasn’t in the horse, or that the chain of evidence was destroyed by a switching of the urine samples.”

Kenny Smith, the state chemist, said that repeated tests of Dancer’s Image’s urine all showed Butazolidin. In late 1968, a Nebraska chemist testified that Smith’s testing procedures were adequate and a Philadelphia chemist said that the test results indicated that Dancer’s Image had been given Bute 16 to 32 hours before the Derby.

Smith said that he didn’t know the positive test belonged to Dancer’s Image until Churchill Downs announced the disqualification almost 72 hours after the race. Smith said that samples sent to him were numbered but were not labeled by race or horse’s name.

Smith, now 72, said he spent 52 hours on the witness stand in the five years after the Derby. In the first ruling on Fuller’s appeal, a Kentucky judge said that one of Smith’s tests indicated Bute, but the others “directly contradict his stated opinion of what he determined.” The judge also said that Smith’s testing device malfunctioned.

A state court overruled that judge and gave the Derby victory to Forward Pass. In 1975, less than two years after the 1968 Derby officially ended, the Kentucky Racing Commission fired Smith, who had done its testing for 29 years.

Embittered, Smith spent $20,000 unsuccessfully fighting his dismissal, which he claimed violated his civil rights.

“At least I got my kids through college before they got rid of me,” Smith said. “Was I let go because of what happened after the ’68 Derby? Absolutely.”

THE UNKNOWING TRAINER

In the month before the Kentucky Derby, Dancer’s Image was treated with Butazolidin without trainer Lou Cavalaris’ knowledge.

“I don’t know why he was given it,” Cavalaris said. “But he was and he got real colicky (sick to the stomach) on me.”

Owner-breeder Peter Fuller remembers how Dancer’s Image reacted to Butazolidin. “He would spew his manure all over the back of the stall wall,” Fuller said. “But he didn’t do that all of Kentucky Derby week. That kind of adds to the mystery, doesn’t it?”

Cavalaris, who has been the racing secretary at Woodbine, near Toronto, for the last 10 years, said he has no idea why Dancer’s Image tested positive after the Derby.

“There were rumors going around that you wouldn’t believe,” he said. “But except after the workout the Monday before, I didn’t order any more Bute for the horse, and neither did anyone on my staff.”

Cavalaris was critical of the security at Churchill Downs in 1968.

“On cold nights, the guards would go into the tack rooms to get warm,” he said. “I’ve only been back to the Derby once, when a friend of mine from Canada was running a horse, and I was impressed by how much better the barn security was.”

For his role in the ’68 Derby, Cavalaris drew a 30-day suspension from the Kentucky stewards, which meant he wasn’t on the scene for the Preakness. Cavalaris wouldn’t have been able to train Dancer’s Image for the Belmont Stakes, either, but the horse didn’t run in the race.

He says the Derby incident didn’t hurt his reputation and at 65 he plans to return to training next year.

“I just want to get back to the horses,” Cavalaris said.

THE NAIVE OWNER

“I never paid attention to medication or training times when I owned horses back then,” Fuller was saying recently. “It was like I was out in left field, with the sun in my eyes.”

On the Sunday after the Derby, Fuller visited some farms in the Lexington area, where Dancer’s Image was expected to spend his stud career.

Back in Louisville on Sunday night, Fuller received a phone call from Warner Jones, a long-time board member at Churchill Downs and a friend.

“They’ve got a problem with your horse’s test,” Jones said.

“What are you talking about?” Fuller said.

“It’s very serious.”

“Now look, nobody’s taking this away from me, Pal.”

But they did, of course. Fuller felt embarrassed through the 5-year war, because while he was actually fighting Kentucky state racing officials, he was indirectly fighting Calumet Farm, the owner of Forward Pass.

“I was a hero worshiper of Calumet, with all their great horses,” Fuller said.

Fuller thought that it was impossible for him to get a fair decision in Kentucky because of Calumet’s strong position in the breeding business there. He said that Lucille Markey, the grande dame of Calumet, vowed never to run another horse in Kentucky if the courts didn’t award Forward Pass the Derby victory.

In 1955, when Calumet’s Miz Clementine was disqualified and dropped from first to second in the Santa Anita Maturity, Markey said her horses would never return to California, and they didn’t.

“She was a lady with a will of iron, so what chance did I have?” Fuller said.

The Fuller name was important, too, but only in Massachusetts. Peter’s father had been governor, and made the decision not to pardon Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti when the Italians were executed in 1927 in a case that tested emotions around the world.

At least Peter Fuller kept the gold cup that goes to the Derby winner. He took it home to be engraved, and was never asked to give it back.

THE CHEESE CHAMPION

Forward Pass was a good horse in a weak year for 3-year-olds. He didn’t race beyond 3 but earned $678,000 by winning 10 of 23 starts and finishing in the money 6 other times.

But after winning the Preakness, Forward Pass became racing’s problem horse. If he won the Belmont Stakes, could Forward Pass be declared a genuine Triple Crown champion? Would he be declared the Triple Crown champion and then be stripped of the honor by the courts years later?

Stage Door Johnny, who hadn’t run in the Derby or the Preakness and who in fact won the first race of his life less than a month before the Belmont, solved that problem. Running in his first stake, he beat Forward Pass by 1 lengths.

Forward Pass won one more race and was retired because of weak ankles, not unlike Dancer’s Image’s. Stage Door Johnny was voted champion 3-year-old colt. The voters didn’t know what to do with Forward Pass, a horse who may or may not have won the Kentucky Derby.

Calumet sold Forward Pass to breeding interests in Japan in 1977, and at 15 he died there, of stomach complications, on Dec. 1, 1980.

THE OUTCAST

The Preakness was Dancer’s Image’s last race. The ankle that he injured in Kentucky required cortisone injections before the Preakness, and then it appeared to get worse in a workout before the Belmont.

Fuller actually had his wife, Joan, to thank for the colt’s 12 wins and more than $200,000 in purses. Early in 1967, Lou Cavalaris told Fuller that he had some better unraced 2-year-olds and Dancer’s Image was consigned to an auction at Hialeah.

Johnny Nerud was bidding for the horse when Joan Fuller turned to Peter and said: “I think he’s a beautiful horse. Why don’t we keep him?”

Fuller went to $26,000 on his own horse and Nerud gave up.

Dancer’s Image was syndicated for $2 million, but American breeding catalogues refused to list him as the first-place finisher in the Derby, something that infuriated Fuller almost as much as losing his long appeal.

No longer welcome in Kentucky, Dancer’s Image started at stud in Maryland, where he had been foaled, was moved to Ireland in 1974, then to France and in 1979 was sent to Japan, two years after Forward Pass’ arrival. Now 23 and snow white, Dancer’s Image stands for a stud fee that ranges from $5,000 to $7,800.

CANCELED APPEARANCE

Ussery won all three of his starts aboard Dancer’s Image before the 1968 Kentucky Derby.

Like Fuller, Ussery also still has his Derby trophy and displays it proudly at his home in a Miami suburb.

The Monday after the Kentucky Derby, Ussery rode at Aqueduct and got a standing ovation when he was introduced to the crowd.

On Tuesday, Ussery was golfing when news of the disqualification reached him. “I quit right there and went home,” he said.

In 1967, after winning the Derby with Proud Clarion, Ussery was a guest on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He was invited back in 1968, but the Sullivan people told him to forget about it after the disqualification. Instead, Ussery was asked to appear on Johnny Carson’s late-night show.

“All they wanted to talk about was Bute,” Ussery said. “I told them I knew a lot about horses, but I didn’t know anything about Bute.”

TWICE-BLESSED

In 1958, when Ismael (Milo) Valenzuela won the first Kentucky Derby he ever rode in, with Tim Tam, he got lucky. Bill Hartack had been riding Tim Tam, but had broken his leg in a spill and Valenzuela had taken over.

Ten years later, Don Brumfield was riding Forward Pass, but he got food poisoning just before the Blue Grass and Valenzuela substituted and won the race. Keeping the mount eight days later, Valenzuela and Forward Pass became the winners of sorts in the Derby.

The 53-year-old Valenzuela, who failed to win with his other five Derby mounts, now trains horses in Southern California after retiring from riding in the late 1970s because of weight and back problems.

Valenzuela says that Alex Harthill and Leslie Combs of Spendthrift Farm helped him get the assignment on Forward Pass by mentioning his name favorably to Lucille Markey of Calumet Farm. Valenzuela was a guest at Harthill’s home the week of the Derby.

Valenzuela finished a round of golf and was on his way back to Churchill Downs to ride when he heard the news of Dancer’s Image’s disqualification on the car radio.

“I thought they had to be kidding,” Valenzuela said. “But when I got inside the jocks’ room, the clerk of scales told me that it had really happened.”

In those days, it was common for jockeys to “save"--splitting their shares of the purse money if they rode a multiple entry. While Peter Fuller was battling the Kentucky Racing Commission, Valenzuela suggested to Bobby Ussery that they save.

“No matter who won, I told him we could split it,” Valenzuela said. “75-25, 60-40, I didn’t care. But at least that way, both of us would get something. But Ussery said he was going to win it all on the appeal.”

In 1973, Valenzuela collected his 10% of the winning purse--a pay-off of about $14,000, counting the 6% interest that had been added on for five years. For the 1968 Derby, Ussery got the standard mount fee--$50. Actually, Ussery got nothing. He gave the money to his valet before leaving the Churchill Downs jockeys’ room.


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