It was a pretty good week for Peter Fuller, the octogenarian owner and breeder from Watertown, Mass., best known as the only man to lose the Kentucky Derby by disqualification.
Fuller got his first racing victory of the year June 3 when I’vegottabeme, his homebred son of Albert the Great, eked out a narrow maiden claiming win at Delaware Park. First prize money of $13,200 will help make a few mares go round.
But what happened five days earlier made Fuller’s heart really soar. Mom’s Command, the champion homebred filly he raced in the 1980s, was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. The May 29 announcement came four months after Mom’s Command’s death at the age of 25. The daughter of the Bold Ruler stallion Top Command, out of the Pia Star mare Star Mommy, had fallen short numerous times in Hall of Fame voting. In 2006, she didn’t even get on the final ballot.
“I’m thrilled that ‘Mom’ finally made it,” said Fuller, who conceded that her recent death probably put Mom’s Command over the top in the voting."
“It was fun to finally be able to have something really nice happen,” he said, “instead of the incident that occurred a long time ago.”
Fuller was speaking, of course, about the 1968 Kentucky Derby, a race won on the track by Dancer’s Image, a Fuller homebred who charged from the back of the 14-horse field to defeat Calumet Farm’s Forward Pass by 1½ lengths. A subsequent ruling by the stewards, backed up by the Kentucky State Racing Commission and the courts, disqualified Dancer’s Image from the Derby win after the then-banned substance phenylbutazone was detected in a post-race urine test. Phenylbutazone, or Bute, was subsequently legalized.
Fuller, 84, a boxer in his younger days, never gave up the fight on behalf of Dancer’s Image, but he’s never allowed it to sour him on the game. “Racing keeps me going,” he said.
There is a touch of irony that Mom’s Command will be inducted into the Hall of Fame the same year as the trainer of Forward Pass, Henry Forrest, who was elected by the Historic Review Committee.
The rise of Mom’s Command 16 years later erased some of the sting inflicted on Fuller by the Derby DQ, but even then he had to endure public criticism when he insisted that his daughter Abigail ride the filly.
One of seven girls in the Fuller family, Abby was aboard for all but two of Mom’s Command’s races. The spotlight on the young rider wasn’t always pretty, but ultimately “Mom” and Abby made quite a team, winning nine races together, including the four biggest grade I stakes for 3-year-old fillies in New York: the Acorn, Mother Goose, Coaching Club American Oaks, and Alabama Stakes. On the strength of those victories (the first three were considered by many the Fillies’ Triple Crown), Mom’s Command was voted an Eclipse Award as outstanding 3-year-old filly of 1985.
That same year, Fuller pushed for a match race against Fran’s Valentine, the first-place finisher in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) the previous year who was disqualified from the win for interference. The specter of Ruffian, who had died in a match race 10 years earlier, led to the idea being spiked. “I was crazy enough that if Fran’s Valentine hadn’t still been on the docket I would have had Mom go in the Travers (gr. I) because I thought her speed would have kept Chief’s Crown from catching her,” Fuller said. “I still love (former jockey) Angel Cordero’s quote: ‘I love Abby, but I’m sick of looking at her ass!’ ”
Fuller has had some moments worth remembering in the sport—some good and some bad. The Aug. 6 Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., will add to that collection.