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Photo of Kentucky Derby winner leads to investigation

Posted: Saturday May 10, 2003 11:31 AM
Updated: Saturday May 10, 2003 8:00 PM
  A magnified view shows a dark area in the space between Jose Santos' right hand and his whip. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

ATLANTA (CNN) -- The Kentucky Racing Commission announced Saturday it has initiated an investigation into last week's victory by Funny Cide in the Kentucky Derby.

The investigation was inspired by a call and a picture received Thursday from a reporter for the Miami Herald, said chief steward Bernie Hettel, executive director of the Kentucky Racing Commission.

The photograph appeared to show something besides the riding crop in the right hand of jockey Jose Santos, Hettel said.

A meeting was scheduled for Monday that will include Santos, Funny Cide owner Jack Knowlton said. One Churchill Downs steward called the photo "very suspicious."

"Any time there's information supplied to the stewards, it's incumbent on us to pursue it," said Hettel, one of three stewards charged with investigating claims of wrongdoing.

"It's far too early to tell anything, but an enormous amount of work is under way, including checking with photographers and television people all over the country" to obtain other photographs of the race, said J. Bruce Miller, counsel for the racing commission.

The first thing to take place will be to determine whether the photographs have been doctored, Miller said. "That's where our investigation begins."

Photo Gallery
Sports Illustrated sifted through hundreds of frames of Jose Santos from the Kentucky Derby. Check out SI's photo sequence and judge for yourself. 
 
 

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

Commission rules do not prohibit a jockey from holding an object with his whip, other than those specifically prohibited, such as an electrical device that might make the horse run faster. It was not immediately clear what, if anything, Santos might have been holding in addition to his whip.

The questions were raised after The Miami Herald published a story about the jockey, along with the photo. A reporter from the Herald brought the photo to the attention of the stewards on Thursday night.

"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," said Knowlton, speaking by phone from the horse's barn at Belmont Park in New York.

Knowlton said he would attend the meeting Tuesday even though he plans to take Funny Cide to Baltimore to get ready for next Saturday's Preakness. The stewards -- Hettel, Rick Leigh and Jack Middleton -- have ultimate authority over a race's results.

The investigation gave Empire Maker's trainer, Bobby Frankel, second thoughts about his decision to skip the Preakness. He told the Blood-Horse Web site he was going to enter Empire Maker, after all, but later he decided against it.

"I don't think there'll be any change," Frankel said, referring to the possibility that Funny Cide could be disqualified in the Derby, "so I'll stick to my original plans."

The 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.

Santos told the Herald on Friday he carried an object in his hand during the race and described it as a "'cue' ring to call the outriders."

"Why do you want to write about this negative stuff?" Santos said before he hung up the phone at Belmont Park, the Herald reported.

Santos said he was carrying the ring to alert an outrider to his presence. An outrider is a rider aboard a pony that can guide a thoroughbred before and after the race.

However, Santos told the Daily Racing Form on Saturday from Belmont that the Herald misunderstood and that it was a "Q-ray" bracelet that he regularly wears for arthritis. The jockey is from Chile and speaks English with a heavy accent.
  Jose Santos and Funny Cide Jose Santos rode Funny Cide to the 10th-fastest finish in Derby history. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Knowlton told the AP that the owners spoke to Santos at the barn Saturday morning.

"He had a bracelet on his arm. He always wears it, and that's what we have here," he said.

However, Santos appears to be wearing a bracelet on his left wrist in the photo, not his right. The Racing Form story did not address what Santos might have had in his right hand besides his whip.

Hettel and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith told the Herald they have never heard of a cue ring.

Leigh told the newspaper the photograph looks "very suspicious."

It is unclear whether the dark image in Santos' hand is a shadow, the light green background of the silks worn by the jockey behind him or something illegal. Other photos show Santos firmly grasping the whip with his whole hand after crossing the finish line.

The picture, taken immediately after the horse crossed the finish line, was shot by Jamie Squire, a staff photographer with Getty Images who was standing in the first turn of the track.

He was using a Canon digital camera equipped with a 500 mm lens that fires eight frames per second, "and I have the sequence," he said.

"The subsequent frames, I think, are probably what they'll be looking at as well," he said.

"Personally, it looks like it could be something in his hand that he's kind of palming," Squire said about the picture that was published.

But, he added, "From the subsequent frames, it doesn't look like there's anything in his hands."

Brandon Lopez, an editor at Getty, told the Herald the photograph was not altered.

When asked if riders are permitted to carry anything other than a whip, Hettel told the newspaper: "Why would they want to? It's the biggest race of the year. You have enough to do with the whip and the reins that there is no reason to carry anything else."

Even if charges are brought, the payoffs to bettors will not be changed, Miller said. "Those who bet the way they bet, that's what happened."

Funny Cide's victory paid bettors more than 12-1.

But, depending on the investigators' findings, the purse structure could be changed, and the jockey and others could be punished, Miller said.

"The sky's the limit as to what could happen, and, hopefully, it won't have to, but we'll see."

Santos 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 Kentucky Derby victory.

"It's an unneeded distraction," Knowlton told the AP. "We're trying to get the horse and all the horse's connections ready for the second leg of the Triple Crown."

 
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 


 
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