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A Week Later, Derby Lacks Photo Finish

Winning jockey Santos expects to be cleared after picture shows he might have been carrying illegal device.

May 11, 2003|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

The lawyer for Jose Santos, the Kentucky Derby-winning jockey, said Saturday that Santos expects to be cleared of any wrongdoing in an investigation about whether he may have used an electrical prod to urge Funny Cide to victory.

Santos, who won his first Derby on May 3, found himself in a defensive mode after the Miami Herald revisited a widely published photo of the jockey reaching the finish line with Funny Cide at Churchill Downs. In a story in Saturday's Herald, it was suggested that Santos may have had something in his right hand besides a whip.

On Thursday, the newspaper informed the three Churchill Downs stewards of its findings. The Herald quoted Rick Leigh, one of the stewards, as saying: "I looked at the photos and it looks very suspicious."

Santos' attorney, Karen Murphy, said that she and the jockey would attend a hearing before the stewards Monday morning in Louisville, Ky. Jack Knowlton, the managing partner of the syndicate that races Funny Cide, will also attend the hearing.

"We want to get this over with and behind us," Murphy said. "I am confident that Jose will be fully exonerated. There is another picture, from Associated Press, that shows the same moment and shows that there was nothing there."

The photo referred to in the Herald story was taken by Jamie Squire for Getty Images.

"Now that I look at it, it's pretty interesting," Squire was quoted in the Herald. "I definitely see something in his hand besides the whip. It's an object, and I definitely did not alter the photograph. I stand by my reputation on that."

Barclay Tagg, the trainer of Funny Cide, defended Santos.

"This is absurd," Tagg said. "I give it no credence, and Jose doesn't either. You can see right through [Santos'] whole hand. I don't know what they're talking about. They're nuts."

Santos' agent, Mike Sellito, said that he was not concerned.

"Anything that's been said is false," Sellito said. "There's nothing to this. We've got this in hand, and everything's going to come out perfect."

Funny Cide, who's in training at Belmont Park in New York, is scheduled to be vanned to Baltimore for next Saturday's Preakness, the second leg in the Triple Crown. For a while Saturday, trainer Bobby Frankel considered running Empire Maker, the Derby runner-up, in the Preakness, but later in the day, in an interview with Television Games Network, he said that the colt would skip the Pimlico race to run in the Belmont Stakes on June 7. Frankel plans to run Peace Rules, who ran third in the Derby, in the Preakness.

"After watching the replay of the Derby, it doesn't look like anything happened," Frankel said. "So I think I am going with my original plan. Unless the [Churchill Downs] stewards rule something or find something I don't know about, I'm going to stick with Peace Rules."

Were Funny Cide to be disqualified in the Derby, Empire Maker would be moved up to first place and become eligible to sweep the Triple Crown. No horse has swept the Derby-Preakness-Belmont series since Affirmed in 1978.

The Santos controversy has once more cast a cloud over a struggling sport that recently has been lambasted after its biggest days. In October, a trio of former college fraternity brothers conspired to bet some of the races in the Breeders' Cup pick six after they had already been run. They expected to collect more than $3 million in payoffs before their scheme was discovered. All three received prison sentences earlier this year, but the integrity of the tote system, the foundation of a gambling game, was called into question.

The only Derby winner ever disqualified was Dancer's Image, who tested positive for phenylbutazone, then an illegal anti-inflammatory drug in Kentucky, after winning in 1968. Forward Pass, moved up to first place in the Derby, won the Preakness, then racing was saved from having a Triple Crown winner with an asterisk when he finished second in the Belmont.

In 1995, in a story in the Daily Racing Form, it was suggested that Gary Stevens, seconds after winning the Derby with Thunder Gulch, may have handed something to another jockey, Pat Day, who finished third aboard Timber Country, a stablemate of the winner. That speculation was also fueled by photos taken of the race, but an investigation produced no irregularities.

"All that was ridiculous, and so is this stuff about Santos," Stevens said Saturday at Hollywood Park, just before he rode Storming Home to victory in the Jim Murray Memorial Handicap. "If Jose had something in his hand, he would have to be a physical genius, to be able to twirl his whip and use whatever he was supposed to have. Already they're getting ready to crucify him, and I've heard that he should never be allowed to ride again. He may not have to. He might get enough from a slander suit that he'll wind up owning that newspaper."

Stevens' mount, Buddy Gil, finished sixth in this year's Derby.

Asked if Santos might sue the Miami Herald, Murphy said: "I don't want to go there."

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