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Stewards clear Santos of wrongdoing

Posted: Monday May 12, 2003 12:31 PM
Updated: Monday May 12, 2003 6:46 PM
  Jose Santos This is the image that spurred the investigation into Jose Santos' Kentucky Derby win. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- There was nothing to the photo finish, after all. There was nothing in jockey Jose Santos' right hand but a whip.

Questions about his winning ride in the Kentucky Derby were answered Monday when Churchill Downs stewards determined Santos had not broken the rules, ending a controversy that threatened to tarnish thoroughbred racing's premier event.

"There is no evidence that would suggest that Mr. Santos had any prohibited device in his possession or that he engaged in any improper actions during the race," chief steward Bernie Hettel said at a news conference.

It all started with a photograph brought to the stewards' attention by The Miami Herald.

The shot, by Getty Images, showed a dark area in the space between Santos' hand and his whip as he crossed the finish line.

When the stewards examined the photo magnified 250 times, it turned out to be two things: the silks of Jerry Bailey, who finished second aboard Empire Maker, and part of a strap from his goggles, Hettel said.

"One picture says it all, doesn't it?" Hettel said.

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. 
 
 

Santos can now focus on Saturday's Preakness, then the Belmont Stakes on June 7. If Funny Cide wins in Baltimore, he would have a chance to be the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown.

"I am thankful this nightmare is over," he said. "A week ago, I was in the happiest moment of my life. And then this photograph came in, in Miami, and destroyed my career, actually.

"Angry? Anybody who has some false situation, they have to be very angry. It was a terrible situation for my family. My little boy, my No. 1 fan, he was at home and I told him everything would be OK. And he told me, 'All the people who cheat in racing, Daddy, you're not a cheater.' I'm happy for them this is over."

The stewards' ruling followed a 90-minute meeting at the track with Santos, his lawyer and his agent.

Funny Cide could have been disqualified if the stewards had determined that Santos carried something illegal, such as a battery or hand-held electrical device to shock the horse into running faster.

A Derby winner has been disqualified only once -- Dancer's Image in 1968 after he was given banned medication. Forward Pass was declared the winner.

The stewards spent the weekend poring over scores of photos and videotape. They also searched the racetrack and turf course where Funny Cide and Santos crossed for postrace ceremonies May 3 and did not find any illegal device.

The stewards said they didn't consider comments made by Santos to the Herald and later disputed.

The paper reported that Santos said he carried an object in his hand during the race, something he called a "cue ring." No one in the industry has heard of it.

The jockey, who is from Chile and speaks English with a heavy accent, later said there was a misunderstanding. That he was talking about his "Q-Ray" bracelet for arthritis.

"The review was clearly painstakingly done, and we certainly accept the result," said Tom Fiedler, executive editor of the Herald.

"I think the process unfolded as it should when a question arises."

Santos won the Eclipse Award in 1988 as the nation's outstanding jockey and was the leading rider in purse earnings from 1986 to '89.

In giving Santos his first Derby victory, 12-1 shot Funny Cide beat favorite Empire Maker by 1 3/4 lengths to become the first gelding to win the Derby since 1929.

Funny Cide was also the first New York-bred horse to win the Derby, and that's what owner Jack Knowlton was celebrating in Albany, N.Y., when he got the news.

He and about 30 others cheered and applauded when track spokesman John Asher announced the stewards' decision on TV.

"Jose Santos, his integrity is just miles above anyone on the racetrack," Knowlton said. "Anybody who looks at his accomplishments, looks at his record, would absolutely agree with that."

He added that the euphoria of winning the Derby vanished when the initial questions surfaced.

"We were on a roll, on a high, up until about 9 o'clock Saturday morning," Knowlton said. "We just felt like we were punched in the stomach."

The owner can now turn his attention to the Preakness, where Funny Cide could face as many as 11 challengers.

Trainer Bob Baffert, who will saddle Senor Swinger in the Preakness, said the stewards' ruling was good for racing.

"In this game, integrity is very important for us and for the gamblers," Baffert said. "The bad thing is that it's the Kentucky Derby -- our most sacred race -- and that's why it's such a big deal."

 
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