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50 years ago: "1968 was a horrible year"
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50 years ago: "1968 was a horrible year"

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, 14 lengths behind, to pass 13 horses and cross the wire fence one and a half lengths 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 the horse he chose. Three days after the race, the Churchill Downs stewards ordered Boston car dealer Peter Fuller to return the trophy and winning purse, naming Forward Pass the winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby. career revealed that Dancer’s Image had phenylbutazone in her blood sample.

It is an anti-inflammatory analgesic, commonly used today when horses suffer from joint inflammation. But in 1968 it was illegal at Kentucky racetracks. Fuller’s vet prescribed it during training but allowed it to be removed from the horse’s bloodstream for six days before the race. Fuller, his vet and the horse’s trainer could not explain why Dancer’s Image still had phenylbutazone in his system on race day.

I was a rare eighth grader who was fluent in reading previous Racing Form performance charts and had memorized a lot of racing trivia. But we were also a politically conscious family. My father ran for the House of Representatives 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 toppled 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 potential track chaos.

In April 1968, Fuller entered Dancer’s Image in a tuneup for the Derby, the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York City.

When his horse won, Fuller donated the bag to the newly widowed Coretta Scott King. 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 extra security. They rejected.

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 domestic workers, 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 and aggressive Yankee may have alienated the southern courtiers whom he should have tried to charm. Instead, he made condescending comments about “rednecks.”

The bottom line is that you didn’t get the extra security from Churchill Downs, and you didn’t hire your own. Security at his racing barn, he recalled to himself, was “an older guy in a chair and asleep.”

Fuller later said that he believed he was “tricked”, that an unknown intruder entered his horse’s stable to inject the disqualifying phenylbutazone. Either that or the blood sample was adulterated.

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 final. Fuller said he spent $250,000 in unsuccessful lawsuits against him.

A billboard on his New Hampshire horse farm obstinately boasts that it’s the home of 1968 Kentucky Derby winner Dancer’s Image. 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 just missed a Triple Crown sweep on June 1 after leading the Belmont to the sixteenth pole finish.

Three days later, as the 13-year-olds were beginning their summer vacation, there was another tragedy in the real world, 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, tempest-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, your historical pomp.” But when Bishara brought his 12-year-old son Sirhan Sirhan to California, she imported a monstrous ego and many centuries of old hatreds into his American sanctuary.

Young Sirhan looked westernized in his teens, sporting a tufted hair style, and even in old age today he looks like a gentle 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 he favored selling fighter jets to Israel.

He checked out the Los Angeles hotel where Kennedy would view 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 piecing together 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 Supreme Court appointment is any indication. a Court populated by three Bobby Kennedy nominations could have decided Roe v. Wade differently.

Byron White, JFK’s nominee to the Court, not only dissented from Roe, but from all subsequent decisions that applied it 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, rather than Richard Nixon, had filled those Supreme Court vacancies with the same type of justices as Byron White, they could have combined with William Rehnquist and White to form a 5-4 majority for child protection. not born. Tens of millions of American children could have been spared the abortion holocaust that followed 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

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