1968 was a horrible year
Horses are big business in Kentucky, and even schoolchildren were aware of the controversy in Louisville 50 years ago. It started with the horse race on the first Saturday in May, as far as we knew.
with Kentucky Governor Louie Nunn and presidential candidate Richard Nixon watching from the stands, Dancer’s Image came from last place, 14 lengths back, to overtake 13 horses and cross the fence a length and a half ahead of Forward Pass. Nunn chuckled as Nixon dramatically tore his losing ticket in half.
But Nixon may have been a bit hasty, depending on which horse he chose. Three days after the race, stewards at Churchill Downs ordered Boston car dealer Peter Fuller to return the trophy and winning bag, and named Forward Pass the winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby. race revealed that Dancer’s Image had phenylbutazone in his blood sample.
It is an anti-inflammatory analgesic, commonly used today when horses suffer from inflammation in the joints. But in 1968 it was illegal on Kentucky racetracks. Fuller’s vet prescribed it during training, but allowed it to wash out of the horse’s bloodstream for six days before the race. Fuller, his veterinarian and the horse’s trainer could not explain why Dancer’s Image still had phenylbutazone in his system on race day.
I was an odd 8th grader who fluently read past Racing Form performance charts and had memorized a lot of racing trivia. But we were also a politically aware family. My dad ran for House on “Clean Gene” McCarthy’s anti-war ticket in Kentucky’s 1st Congressional District. Bobby Kennedy was campaigning for the presidential nomination across the river in Indiana.
Martin Luther King was brought down exactly one month before the 1968 Derby, but he was in Louisville a year earlier to help local blacks, led by his brother, AD King, protest housing discrimination.
Locals had disrupted a race at Churchill Downs the previous year and wanted to disrupt the 1967 Derby, but King convinced them to hold the protests downtown, due to the potential chaos on the track.
In April 1968, Fuller entered Dancer’s Image in a tryout for the Derby, the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York City.
When his horse won, Fuller donated the bag to Coretta Scott King, who had just been widowed. I have seen two different numbers: $62,000 and $77,415. Either way, it was a lot of money in 1968 dollars. He didn’t advertise it, but it was common knowledge at the track, and a race announcer mentioned it on TV.
The gift made friends and enemies for Fuller. There was hate mail. There were anonymous death threats. There was a mysterious fire in one of his stables. So he asked Churchill Downs management to put up additional security. They refused.
Fuller was a pretty demanding guy. He was a former Marine and the son of a former Republican Governor. His father was one of the richest men in America, and Fuller was not far behind.
After growing up in a household with 11 maids, Fuller was accused of getting away with murder. It was customary to provide Derby horse owners with four tickets. He asked for 50.
The brash, aggressive Yankee may have alienated the southern courtiers he should have been trying to charm. Instead, he made condescending comments about “rednecks.”
The bottom line is that he didn’t get the extra security from Churchill Downs, and he didn’t hire his own. Security at his racing stable, he recalled, was “an older guy in a chair and asleep.”
Fuller later said that he believed he had been “tricked”, that an unknown intruder entered his horse’s stall to inject the disqualifying phenylbutazone. Either that or the blood sample was tampered with.
Fuller appealed the track marshals’ decision to the Kentucky Racing Commission and lost. He took his case to court and won in 1970. Dancer’s Image was once again the winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby.
But then the state of Kentucky took that decision to a federal appeals court and won the case against Fuller and Dancer’s Image. That was definitive. Fuller said he spent $250,000 on his pointless lawsuits.
A billboard on his horse farm in New Hampshire stubbornly boasts that it is the home of Dancer’s Image, winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby. But that sign is false.
Forward Pass is the winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby. The colt was no fluke, either: he won the Preakness and barely missed a Triple Crown sweep on June 1 after leading the Belmont to the final 16th pole.
Three days later, as the 13-year-olds began their summer vacation, there was another real-world tragedy, the second in two months. that made horse racing seem terribly frivolous.
“Give me your weary, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your crowded shore,” wrote the poet Emma Lazarus, addressing the Old World. Send me these, storm-tossed. I raise my lamp by the golden gate.
And so Palestinian immigrant Bishara Sirhan brought his family to the United States. The poet also asked the Old World to “maintain, ancient lands, their historic pomp.” But when Bishara brought his 12-year-old son Sirhan Sirhan to California, he imported a monstrous ego and many centuries of ancient hatreds into his American sanctuary.
Young Sirhan looked westernized in his teens, with a tufted hair style, and even in old age today he looks like a kind gentleman. But he testified in court that he murdered Bobby Kennedy “with 20 years of premeditation.” His diary confirmed that he was full of resentment against the Jews and against the senator from New York who was in favor of selling warplanes to Israel.
He checked out the Los Angeles hotel where Kennedy would watch the primary election results with his supporters. Kennedy won the California and South Dakota presidential primaries on June 4. Incumbent President Lyndon Johnson had long since withdrawn from the race. There was great hope among Americans who had supported the late President John F. Kennedy eight years earlier.
As Bobby Kennedy was leaving the celebration through a hotel kitchen, Sirhan intercepted him and shot him three times, one in the head and two in the back. Like phenylbutazone, Sirhan nullified the victory. And in my mind, I see Richard Nixon putting together the pieces of his Derby ticket.
Of course, no one knows how the world might have been different if Bobby Kennedy had been elected president that November instead of Richard Nixon. Like his older brother, he had a penchant for adultery. But he was a practicing Catholic, under the influence of Cardinal Spellman. Unlike his younger brother, Teddy, he did not try to harmonize public policy with his personal immorality.
If older brother John’s sole appointment to the Supreme Court is any indication. a Court populated by three Bobby Kennedy nominations could have decided Roe v. Wade differently.
Byron White, JFK’s appointment to the Court, not only dissented from Roe, but from all subsequent decisions that applied him as binding precedent. Nixon, unlike JFK, nominated pro-abortion Justices Lewis Powell and Harry Blackmun, and pro-abortion Chief Justice Warren Burger to the Court.
If Bobby Kennedy, instead of Richard Nixon, had filled those Supreme Court vacancies with the same kind of justices as Byron White, they could have combined with William Rehnquist and White to form a 5-4 majority for child protection. unborn. Tens of millions of American children could have been spared the post-Roe v. Wade, and continues today. Thanks to Sirhan Sirhan and the people who welcomed him to our country, we will never know for sure.
“1968,” Fuller said, “was a horrible year.”
by Bart Stinson