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Churchillian Diplomacy Is Called For

Fellow jockeys rally behind Santos, who instead of being feted in New York today and preparing for Preakness will be in Kentucky, defending himself.

May 12, 2003|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

Jose Santos had expected to be toasted all over upstate New York today. Instead, he'll be back at Churchill Downs, not to relive his Kentucky Derby heroics but to defend himself against accusations that his fellow jockeys say are bogus and uncalled for.

With the Preakness, the second race in the Triple Crown series, less than a week away, Santos and his attorney have flown from New York to Louisville to try to convince Churchill Downs stewards that the jockey did nothing illegal when he rode Funny Cide to an upset win in the Derby on May 3.

The three stewards have reacted to an inquiry by two Miami Herald reporters, who have questioned whether Santos crossed the finish line with something besides a whip in his right hand. Last Saturday, the newspaper ran a previously published Derby photograph that prompted the story. Today in Kentucky, the stewards can be expected to ask Santos if he was using an illegal, hand-held battery, which could be used to shock a horse into running faster.

Santos' lawyer, Karen Murphy, has said that her client is innocent of any wrongdoing, and Santos has told the Daily Racing Form the same thing. Under scrutiny, the photo appears to show that the un-flesh-like tones between the fingers and thumb of Santos ' right hand are a color in the silks that Jerry Bailey, the rider of second-place finisher Empire Maker, was wearing.

Also expected to appear in Louisville today is Jack Knowlton, Funny Cide's managing owner, who supports Santos and wants to ensure that his horse remains in contention to sweep the Triple Crown.

Santos, Knowlton, the other nine owners of Funny Cide and trainer Barclay Tagg were supposed to be in Albany, N.Y., today, for a resolution in their honor that's being read by the state Senate. Tonight at a familiar racetrack watering hole in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where Knowlton and some of the other owners live, the mayor of the racing hotbed will turn over the keys to the city. Funny Cide is the first New York-bred to win the Derby, and the first gelding to win the race since 1929.

Alluding to the Kentucky inquiry, Murphy said: "This is a terrible thing for Jose and for racing. We wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible so that everybody can move on."

In an unusual development, the jockey colony at Belmont Park, where Santos regularly rides, rallied en masse behind the troubled Derby hero Sunday and, through jockey Richard Migliore, issued this statement:

"As a group, we felt strong and we all wanted to come out to support Jose. We feel the charges that have come up are unfounded and unfair. It has tarnished a great ride on a great horse in a great race. All of us who have ridden with Jose and have known him for years know these charges couldn't be anything farther from the truth. We feel terrible about the allegations. To have this put on America's race -- everyone knows the Kentucky Derby -- is a shame. It was Jose's day and now it's been unfairly dragged through the mud."

Today's meeting will be run by Bernie Hettel, who is both chief steward at Churchill Downs and executive director of the Kentucky Racing Commission.

"This investigation is a pending matter and state regulations prohibit any comment on such matters," Hettel said in a statement. "We are gathering information at this point."

Tagg already had been considering not shipping Funny Cide the 200 miles from Belmont Park to Pimlico until Saturday, the day of the Preakness, and the Santos brouhaha may give the trainer more of a reason to do that. Tagg has had much success bringing horses in just ahead of races, including this year's Derby and Hollywood Park's Gamely Handicap, which he won with Miss Josh in 1991. Keeping Funny Cide at Belmont for extra days would avoid a possible sideshow in Baltimore.

Trainer Bobby Frankel, who arrived from Belmont with Medaglia d'Oro on race day last year, second-guessed himself after the colt finished eighth in the Preakness. Frankel's Preakness horse, Peace Rules, who was third in the Derby, worked Sunday at Belmont -- although fog prevented clockers from timing him -- and is expected to be vanned to Baltimore on Wednesday or Thursday. Empire Maker will skip the Preakness and run in the Belmont Stakes on June 7.

The Preakness lost a horse Sunday when trainer Bob Baffert's Indian Express, who started slowly and ran 14th in the Derby, was ruled out because of a minor foot injury. Because Indian Express likes to run on the front end, the same as Peace Rules, his defection should improve the chances for Frankel's colt.

Baffert, who has won four of the last six Preaknesses, is reduced to one runner, Senor Swinger. A field of between nine and 11 horses is expected. Definites are Funny Cide, Peace Rules, Senor Swinger, Scrimshaw, Midway Road, Cherokee's Boy, Kissin Saint, Alysweep and Champali. Foufa's Warrior and New York Hero might run. Bailey has picked up the mount on Champali.

Baffert will take the Utah-bred Indian Express back to California and point for the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap on June 22 at Hollywood Park.

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Wacky Patty, the 11-10 favorite, became the first local 2-year-old stakes winner of 2003, beating 3-1 second choice Yogi's Polar Bear and five other fillies in the $81,750 Nursery Stakes at Hollywood Park.

Ridden by Corey Nakatani for owner-trainer Jim Chapman, the daughter of Formal Dinner completed the five furlongs in 58.22 seconds.

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Staff writer Bob Mieszerski contributed to this report.

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