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Stanley Dancer; jockey was called king of harness racing

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Stanley Dancer, a record-setting harness driver who was the undisputed king of the sport's marquee races, died yesterday in his home in Pompano Beach, Fla. He was 78.

He had been in declining health for several years, the US Trotting Association said.

In a career that spanned 50 years, Mr. Dancer was the only horseman, thoroughbred or standardbred, to drive and train three Triple Crown winners. He drove winners in 23 Triple Crown races, a record that held for 20 years.

For his career, he won 3,781 races and had total earnings of more than $28 million. In 1966, he began a streak of seven consecutive years with more than $1 million in earnings.

Mr. Dancer stood above all others in his sport during an era when harness racing drew crowds of 50,000 to Roosevelt Raceway and Yonkers Raceway.

His celebrity, however, extended beyond the track. He was a White House guest of President Johnson in 1968, the same year Sports Illustrated featured him on its cover. He beat boxer Joe Frazier in a home run-hitting contest at Philadelphia's Connie Mack Stadium, appeared on ''The Ed Sullivan Show," and counted Yankees stars Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle among his friends.

In 1964, Mr. Dancer became harness racing's first driver to earn more than $1 million in one season. He also drove the first horse to earn more than $1 million, Cardigan Bay.

Seven times his horses won Horse of the Year honors, another record.

Mr. Dancer won his first Triple Crown in 1968 with three-time Horse of the Year Nevele Pride, and won again with Most Happy Fella in 1970 and Super Bowl in 1972. But some consider his 1983 Hambletonian, the sport's most prestigious race, his defining moment.

Dancer's Crown, a heavy favorite, had died of an intestinal ailment less than a month before the race, forcing Mr. Dancer to race the filly Duenna. With two strong trips, Duenna defeated the colts to give Mr. Dancer his fourth and final Hambletonian victory.

Born in West Windsor Township, N.J., Mr. Dancer was the son of a potato farmer.

He won his first race two months before his 18th birthday at Freehold Raceway.

By most accounts, he withstood 32 spills during his career. In 1973, he underwent spinal surgery to repair a fractured vertebra that stemmed from an accident nearly 20 years earlier and had a heart attack during the operation.

He began training again four months later and continued for more than 20 more years, winning his final race in the New Jersey Sires Stakes at Garden State Park in 1995.

''He was the key person in the development of harness racing in New Jersey," said Carol Hodes, a Meadowlands Racetrack spokeswoman, noting that Mr. Dancer had pushed for the development of the track in East Rutherford.

His brothers -- Vernon, Harold, and James -- also raced, as did their sons and Mr. Dancer's son, Ronald. Donald Dancer, son of Vernon, was one of the sport's top drivers in the late 1970s.

The funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in Freehold.

Afterward, a hearse will drive Mr. Dancer's casket around Freehold Raceway for ''one last mile," said Steve Wolf, a spokesman for Pompano Park Harness Track in Florida, where Mr. Dancer had lived during the winters for about 30 years.

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