Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 51 Days to Go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 51 Days to Go!

Forward Pass, the only Kentucky Derby winner to win by disqualification, was also the only Derby winner to be out of a Kentucky Oaks winner. His dam, Princess Turia, was the 1956 Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan, Acorn, and Delaware Handicap winner, while his sire, On-And-On, was a half-brother to Tim Tam, the 1958 Kentucky Derby winner. Princess Turia was out of the stakes winning mare, Blue Delight, who produced three Kentucky Oaks winners. While Princess Turia was by *Helioscope, her two half-sisters, Real Delight and Bubbley, were both by Calumet’s own Bull Lea. Bred and owned by Calumet, the pretty bay colt was registered as Forward Pass by owner Mrs. Markey who had reserved it to give to a colt she deemed worthy of the name she liked.

Though he was from promising bloodlines, as a 2YO, his most notable races were a win in the Flash Stakes and a 3rd in the Sanford at Saratoga. His trainer was Henry Forrest, the trainer of Kauai King, the 1966 Kentucky Derby champion. Now Calumet Farm’s full-time trainer, he had the challenge of trying to figure out a way to keep the youngster running straight, as he had a tendency to lug-in. Finally outfitted with the addition of full-cup blinkers, the issue seemed to be corrected. Prior to the running of the Kentucky Derby, Forward Pass would win three prep races, the Everglades Stakes, Florida Derby, and Blue Grass Stakes. Prior to running in the Blue Grass Stakes, Forward Pass was ridden by jockey Don Brumfield. Unfortunately, Brumfield developed a severe case of food poisoning, leading the colt’s connections to call on jockey Milo Valenzuela who had ridden Tim Tam to victory for Calumet in 1958. The first-time duo ran a spectacular race, with Forward Pass breaking fast and never relinquishing the lead, taking the race in the fastest 9 furlongs run by any Derby contender up to that point in 1968. Two days after the victory, a discussion was had with Brumfield, which ended in Velazquez retaining the mount for the Derby, due to the severity of the food poisoning and the question as to whether Brumfield would be strong enough to finish the race.

Forward Pass was the favorite in the 94th Kentucky Derby, which would become known as the “Drug Store Derby”.  Second choice, Wood Memorial winner Dancer’s Image was plagued by sore ankles and given a dose of phenylbutazone, or “bute”, an NSAID similar to aspirin that was used as a pain-killer and fever reducer, on the Sunday before the Derby with the belief that the “banned in Kentucky” drug would be out of his system by race day.  Dancer’s Image was owned by Peter Fuller, the son of a Massachusetts’s governor. Fuller had asked for tighter security around his barn for the Derby; however it wasn’t deemed necessary as all contenders had security. Fuller was worried due to threats that he had been receiving after giving Coretta Scott King $62,000 of previous purse money two days after her husband was murdered. Many years later, he still believed that he was the victim of tampering when traces of Bute were found in the urine of his horse during testing. The drug test and administering, along with the circumstances around the test are still debated.

In the race itself, Forward Pass would break from the 13 post, with only one horse to his outside, Gleaming Sword, that came over and bumped the Calumet color-bearer. Valenzuela would move the colt into third. Having the lead in the stretch, the colt would be weary from the unusual tactics that his jockey applied in the race running. Asking Forward Pass to run early to not be left behind after the bumping, the pilot then tried to slow the colt once they moved forward. The colt, unused to the maneuver, would become headstrong, not wanting to slow. Once he realized that he couldn’t get the colt to relax, Valenzuela started asking him to run again. The tiring colt would be passed in the stretch by Dancer’s Image and jockey Bobby Ussery, who came from last to win by a length and a half. It wouldn’t be until a few days later that the after race test results would come back and show that Dancer’s Image had the minute traces of Bute in his system. Dancer’s Image would be disqualified from first to last and give Forward Pass the win, as well as giving Calumet Farm their 8th Kentucky Derby.

The win was very controversial, taking 4 years in court to finally be decided in the favor of Forward Pass, a horse who was not drug-tested after the race. The gold cup that is presented to the winner was actually kept in the possession of the jeweler that it was sent to for engraving, until the decision was made. Forward Pass and jockey Milo Valenzuela would go on to win the Preakness in a rematch with Dancer’s Image. They would win the race by 6 lengths, while Dancer’s Image was again disqualified, this time for interference and was moved from 3rd to 8th.  Not competing in the Belmont due to the recurring ankle injury, the ill-fated grey would be retired before the race.

In the Belmont, Forward Pass would finish second behind Stage Door Johnny, a distance specialist, putting an end to the question as to whether he would be considered a Triple Crown winner had he won. Booed by the crowds before both the Preakness and Belmont through no fault of his own, the bay would also have a decisive win in American Derby, taking it by 4 ½ lengths, earning applause upon his return. He would be named Co-Champion 3YO with Stage Door Johnny, in addition to being retired at the end of the 1968 season for stud at Calumet. In 1978 he was exported to Japan for stud interests at Nishiyama Farm where he would pass away in 1980. From 180 foals, he sired 96 winners, 6 of them stakes winners.

(Tray and newspaper courtesy of Kentucky Derby Museum archives)

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum