Read an Excerpt of Equine Regulatory Law Book (Chapter 6)

Kentucky State Racing Commission V. Fuller - The Kentucky Derby Goes To Court

“… I must remind you that Dancer’s Image ran the last quarter on May 4 at Churchill Downs with all his ability and heart to finish the course. Can I, as his owner and friend, do any less?”

Peter Fuller, announcing his intention to appeal to the Franklin Circuit Court the Kentucky State Racing Commission’s decision upholding the disqualification of his Kentucky Derby winning horse

If there is one equine regulatory law case in American history that deserves its own chapter, it would have to be Kentucky State Racing Commission v. Fuller, the Kentucky court case that rocked the racing universe and finally settled the disputed outcome of the 1968 Kentucky Derby. No other single equine law case was fought so fiercely, over so long a time, had so many twists and turns, and—in the end—had so much at stake for all concerned. That this seminal case involved a controversy about the world’s most celebrated horse race only added to the high drama.

Fuller would have a profound effect, not just on the disqualified horse’s connections, but on the entire sport of horse racing. The game’s very structural foundation, its integrity, was put under a “heavy siege,”2 with a withering attack on the reliability of the drug-testing regimen of its race horses and the legal system by which those test results were defended in court. A wary racing industry could only watch and wait, for four years, to see if its vitally important security system would survive the energetic onslaught unleashed by owner Peter Fuller, a gracious but deeply wounded man who, in less than 72 hours, had won and then lost racing’s grandest prize. Fuller, a former champion boxer and wealthy automobile dealer, had both the will and the financial resources to mount such a challenge.

In the field of equine regulatory law itself, Fuller would become a landmark case that tested the mettle of the two most paramount issues in that legal specialty: (1) the role of the racing commission and the parameters of such an agency’s authority to regulate the sport of horse racing, and (2) the interpretation and enforcement of racing’s rules pertaining to drug use, particularly “medications” prohibited, at that time, in a horse when racing. Both of these fundamental concepts would be subjected to the most thoroughly searching scrutiny by Peter Fuller’s aggressive and spirited team of Louisville attorneys, who fully believed they were tasked to a noble cause to overturn a terrible injustice.

Conversely, the rules of racing—and a commission’s prerogatives in their enforcement—would be just as tenaciously defended by Kentucky’s attorney general, whose office set out at the very beginning to claim the moral high ground, insisting that it was fighting to protect the vital heart of racing’s integrity. Against this dramatic tableau, set in the hearing rooms and courthouses of Kentucky, The Bluegrass State, the self-proclaimed world capital of the thoroughbred breeding and racing industry, the battle lines were drawn. It is doubtful that any future equine regulatory law case in the United States will ever see again the degree of emotional intensity, the display of brilliant legal skills, or the enormous stakes that were the hallmarks of Fuller. Unquestionably, no racing commission members, in any state, ever had to make such a momentous decision, nor has any commission had to work so hard to defend a decision after it was handed down.*