- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Funny Cide jockey Jose Santos yesterday was cleared of wrongdoing in his Kentucky Derby victory by track officials who determined that he carried only a whip in his hand.

Three Kentucky Derby stewards ruled that there was no evidence that Santos carried an illegal device during the May3 race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. The officials reviewed videotape and photos from the race, searched the track for a “buzzer” that electrically shocks horses into running faster and yesterday interviewed Santos for 90 minutes.

“We are confident that Jose Santos carried nothing more than a whip in his right hand as Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby,” chief steward Bernie Hettel said. “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.”

The ruling ended a furor that was prompted by a photo called to the stewards’ attention by the Miami Herald and fueled by one steward who called the picture “very suspicious.” That Getty Images photo showed Santos crossing the finish line — and a dark area between Santos’ right hand and the black whip in it.

That image was offset by others, including an Associated Press photo that showed a green object. Officials magnified the Getty Images photo more than 2,000 percent in an effort to determine what the object was.

The stewards said yesterday that dark area was the silks and goggle strap of jockey Jerry Bailey, who rode runner-up Empire Maker.

Santos’ initial explanation, that the object was a “Q-ray” bracelet used to combat arthritis, further clouded the issue because the bracelet was a different color and on his left wrist. Santos, who is from Chile and speaks English with a heavy accent, later said he was misquoted.

“I am thankful this nightmare is over,” Santos said yesterday. “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. My reputation was good. I was very angry.”

Funny Cide could have been disqualified and Santos barred from racing if stewards had determined that an illegal device was used. Criminal charges against Santos also could have been filed.

There has been only one case in recent years in which a jockey was caught using a buzzer in a major stakes race. Jockey Billy Patin was barred for five years after he was caught dropping a device following his victory aboard Vahol in the 1999 Arkansas Derby. Dancer’s Image was disqualified after testing positive for a banned medication in 1968, the only Derby winner ever to be disqualified.

Funny Cide co-owner Jack Knowlton said the charges of wrongdoing felt like “we were punched in the stomach.” He expressed relief that Santos’ reputation remained intact.

“Jose Santos’ … 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.”

The ruling was also welcomed by racing leaders worried that another major scandal would harm the sport. In November, a parimutuel employee admitted wagering after the first four races to collect millions of dollars.

“In this game, integrity is very important for us and for the gamblers,” said trainer Bob Baffert, a three-time Derby winner. “The bad thing is that it’s the Kentucky Derby — our most sacred race — and that’s why it’s such a big deal.”

Funny Cide and Santos on Saturday will resume their bid to become the first Triple Crown champion in 25 years when they run in the 128th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

What seemed likely to be a small field for that race has doubled in recent days to 12. Ten Cents a Shine, Foufa Warrior and Alysweep were late additions to the field before tomorrow’s post position draw.

Foufa Warrior, Alysweep, Champali, Cherokee’s Boy, Midway Road, Kissing Saint, Senor Swinger and New York Hero each skipped the Derby and will make a Triple Crown debut at Pimlico. Red Bullet, who won the Preakness in 2000, is the only horse since 1984 to skip the Derby and win the second jewel of the Triple Crown. Derby runners Peace Rules (third), Ten Cents a Shine (eighth) and Scrimshaw (11th) will join Funny Cide at Pimlico.

Trainer Barclay Tagg doesn’t expect to ship Funny Cide from Belmont Park to Pimlico until Saturday morning.

“I have many horses that need attention in New York,” Tagg said. “And I’ve won many races when I shipped down the same day. Still, I might decide to come earlier if it seems the best thing to do. The important thing is to keep my horse nice and relaxed and quiet.”

Mineshaft is the 8-5 morning-line favorite for Friday’s $600,000 Pimlico Special. Mineshaft won the Ben Ali at Keeneland and the New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds. Western Pride (3-1) is second choice in the field of 10.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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