- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 18, 2003

BALTIMORE — Jockey Jose Santos didn’t just smile for the cameras. He waved his hands in redemption.

After Funny Cide’s Kentucky Derby victory was unfairly clouded by a photo reportedly showing an illegal electrical device in his right hand, Santos held his whip firmly in the stretch. The runaway Preakness Stakes triumph yesterday permitted no second guessing.

“I used my whip in case there was a camera or something,” Santos said.

Funny Cide’s 93/4-length victory — second biggest in Preakness history — brought absolution for the rider. The Miami Herald had suggested Santos used a “buzzer” during the Derby, prompting a weekend media frenzy before Kentucky stewards cleared the jockey Monday. The black object was simply a shadow, but it overshadowed the Derby victory.

Santos was taunted by New York railbirds, who called him a cheater. His son was kept home from school to avoid confrontations. The story was dispelled quickly but could have haunted him had Funny Cide lost the Preakness. Instead, the gelding can become the first Triple Crown champion in 25 years by winning the Belmont Stakes on June7.

“The Derby was one of the happiest moments of my life,” Santos said. “Then the bomb blew up. … The only thing I wanted to do was have a clear mind to come ride this race. But I think if you have worries or whatever, you ride this horse. He wants to win no matter what.

“Winning the Preakness was more sentimental because with all the [stuff] that happened, now we did it, and I don’t think nobody can say anything [bad] about Jose Santos, Funny Cide or [trainer] Barclay Tagg.”

Funny Cide’s owners and trainer never wavered in their support of Santos. After all, there has never been any accusations of impropriety in his standout career since he arrived from Chile in 1984. Santos has long been a dominant rider in New York, winning the 1988 Eclipse Award as the nation’s leading journeyman rider. Santos has more than 3,600 victories worth $157million despite a 1992 spill that nearly crippled his right arm.

“We had no doubts about Jose at all,” Tagg said. “It was a terrible shame. To go off half-cocked like that and not study their facts was a travesty. I don’t want to say that I don’t like reporters, but there’s no excuse for that type of stuff.”

Said Sakatoga Stables managing partner Jack Knowlton: “We knew there was nothing to the allegation. We didn’t want it to detract from the Preakness.”

Santos delivered another standout ride, perfectly gauging the pace to leave Funny Cide with plenty of stamina for the stretch. Like the Derby, he kept Funny Cide out of traffic troubles and let him stay slightly off the leaders until the final turn before pushing the gelding with three-eighths of a mile remaining.

“I hit him three or four times and pushed him and pushed him, and he was going even more,” Santos said.

Leading by five lengths at the top of the stretch, Santos rode conservatively in the final eighth-mile, tapping Funny Cide twice with the whip to keep the gelding honest. Instead of punishing Funny Cide in an all-out effort, Santos kept something in reserve for the Belmont, when the 1-mile “Test of Champions” will decide whether to pass its 12th immortal and first since Affirmed in 1978.

“The horse was carrying me,” Santos said. “He runs like a nice machine. He was rolling in the end.”

Santos won the 1999 Belmont aboard long-shot Lemon Drop Kid to end Charismatic’s Triple Crown bid. However, Santos felt Funny Cide is much better than his first classic winner.

“I’ve been riding for 27 years, and this is the best horse I’ve ever ridden in my life,” Santos said. “He did more than what Lemon Drop Kid did as a 3-year-old.”

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