Photo starts probe of Derby#039;s winning jockey

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 12, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The jockey who won the Kentucky Derby aboard Funny Cide is being investigated by track stewards who examined a photo of him possibly holding something besides his whip as he crossed the finish line.

The investigation will focus ''most particularly on the actions'' of Jose Santos at the race, chief Churchill Downs steward Bernie Hettel said Saturday. The stewards scheduled a meeting for Monday with Santos and Funny Cide owner Jack Knowlton, said Karen Murphy, the jockey's lawyer.

Knowlton said any accusations that Santos might have cheated are ''just absolutely, totally ridiculous.'' Funny Cide, a 12-1 shot, became the first New York-bred horse and first gelding since 1929 to win the Derby, holding off favorite Empire Maker by 1 3/4 lengths last Saturday.

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The stewards decided to investigate after The Miami Herald published the photo, along with a story. A reporter from the Herald brought the image to the attention of the stewards Thursday night.

The Getty Images photo, which ran in several newspapers the morning after the race, depicts a dark area in the space between Santos' right hand and his whip. It is unclear whether the area is a shadow, the green background of another jockey's silks or something else.

Rick Leigh, a Churchill Downs steward, told the Herald the photo looks ''very suspicious.''

The stewards, who have ultimate authority over a race's results, set no timetable for their investigation.

''It takes as long as it takes,'' track spokesman John Asher said. ''If there is a next step, it could be a formal charge or a hearing. But we are nowhere near that.''

The stewards could take away Funny Cide's victory and award the Derby to another horse if they find that Santos violated racing rules. There has been only one Derby winner disqualified, Dancer's Image in 1968 after he was given banned medication. Forward Pass was declared the winner.

Knowlton called the investigation ''an unneeded distraction'' as he prepares to take Funny Cide to Baltimore for the Preakness.

''We're trying to get the horse and all the horse's connections ready for the second leg of the Triple Crown,'' he said by phone from the horse's barn at Belmont Park in New York.

''There's absolutely, positively not one iota to this and we're very, very disappointed that an individual can take the luster off what we all consider to be a great victory.''

The Herald reported that Santos said he carried an object in his hand during the race and that he described it as a '''cue' ring'' to alert an outrider to his presence. An outrider is a rider aboard a pony who can guide a thoroughbred before and after the race.

However, Santos told the Daily Racing Form that the Herald misunderstood. The jockey, who is from Chile and speaks English with a heavy accent, said he was talking about a ''Q-ray'' bracelet he wears for arthritis.

Frank Carlson, the Herald's horse racing writer, said it was possible there might have been a misunderstanding when he interviewed Santos. Later, in a statement released by the Herald, he said he went through his notes and believed he quoted the jockey accurately.

''What I wrote and what was in the newspaper is what I understood him to say,'' Carlson said in the statement.

Still, Santos appears to be wearing the bracelet on his left wrist in the photo, not his right. So, the possible misunderstanding might have no bearing on the stewards' investigation.

Getty Images photographer Jamie Squire said when he magnified his picture he was able to ''definitely see something in his hand besides the whip.'' AP photos did not show anything else in Santos' right hand.

''An examination of images made by AP photographers showed only a whip visible,'' said Bob Daugherty, who was the supervising editor for AP at the Derby and who has worked at least 35 Derbies.

At Belmont, Funny Cide appeared between the second and third races Saturday, walking around the paddock and drawing applause from fans.

Trainer Barclay Tagg said any suggestion that Santos cheated was ''absurd.''

''I give it no credence and Jose doesn't, either,'' Tagg said.

Santos was to ride in seven races at the track and refused requests for interviews.

He was voted an Eclipse Award in 1988 as the nation's outstanding jockey and was the leading rider in purse earnings from 1986 to '89. This was his first Derby win, but he did ride 43-1 shot Volponi to victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic last October.

In the only other disqualification at the Derby, Gate Dancer, the fourth-place finisher in 1984, was called for interference in the stretch and placed fifth.

In 1999, jockey Billy Patin was suspended from riding for five years after Arkansas racing officials ruled he used a hand-held, battery-operated device to spur long-shot Valhol to victory in the Arkansas Derby, an important Kentucky Derby prep. Film footage from that race showed a dark object falling from Patin's hand as he slowed the horse past the finish.ntributed to this report.