Thinking of his wife and seven
children, Jose Santos decided to play it safe for a change.
Six months after breaking his back in a spill at Aqueduct, the
jockey who rode Funny Cide to victory in the 2003 Kentucky Derby
and Preakness called it a career.
"I am going to retire because my back is in real bad shape
right now," Santos said Monday at a news conference at Saratoga
Race Course. "With time, definitely it's going to get better. But
my doctor advised me it's not a good idea to come back. If I have
another spill, I'll probably not be able to walk again.
Santos, who walks gingerly these days, has said he's lucky he
wasn't more seriously injured in the three-horse spill Feb. 1, and
doesn't want to risk another injury.
"I think it's going to be the best for my interest and my
kids," he said.
Santos' retirement comes a week before the popular 46-year-old
rider is inducted into racing's Hall of Fame, along with former
trainer John Veitch, Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm and
other racing greats.
"This has been very hard for me, because I really wanted go out
on my own terms," Santos said. "That didn't happen. I decided
that I wanted to make this announcement today because I didn't want
to take anything away from the Hall of Fame ceremonies."
The decision also comes 17 days after 7-year-old Funny Cide was
retired. The gelding is a stable pony for his trainer, Barclay
"It's only right that we go out together," Santos said. "I
just hope I find a job as good as his."
Santos, from Concepcion, Chile, was among the nation's leading
jockeys in the 1980s, and leaves the sport with more than 4,000
victories. But he will be remembered for his run at the Triple
Crown with Funny Cide.
The New York-bred Funny Cide was the surprise winner in the
Derby, then demolished the field in the Preakness by 9¾ lengths. On
a rainy day at Belmont Park, nearly 102,000 fans showed up for the
Triple Crown attempt, but Funny Cide finished third.
Santos was dogged by controversy after the Derby, when a
published photograph prompted Churchill Downs officials to
investigate whether the jockey carried something other than a whip
in his right hand during the race. After being cleared of
wrongdoing, Santos said: "I am thankful this nightmare is over. A
week ago, I was in the happiest moment of my life. And then this
photograph came in and destroyed my career, actually."
Santos also won the 1999 Belmont aboard Lemon Drop Kid. He was
the nation's leading rider four years running during the 1980s and
won an Eclipse Award in 1988.
Through the end of 2006, Santos had 4,076 victories in North
America with purse earnings of $186.9 million and 331 graded stakes
"I am extremely grateful for the career I've had, for the
owners and trainers that had faith in me, to my fellow jockeys who
helped bring out the best in me and to the fans for their
support," Santos said. "Most of all, I am grateful to my family.
They have always supported me, and it is tough because every time
you ride a horse, you are in danger. They don't have to worry
anymore, and that is a relief."
Santos' injuries were serious. His spine was fractured in five
places and he broke several ribs.
"Three of them were compression fractures of the (thoracic)
vertebrae," he said. "The other two the T-7 and T-8 - were more
serious fractures. My doctor said that the way they were pressing
against the spinal cord, there would be an 80-percent chance that I
could wind up in a wheelchair."
Santos rode his first race at Hipico Racecourse in Chile,
following in the footsteps of his father and three of his seven
brothers. In 1984, he began riding at South Florida racetracks and
moved to New York a year later.
In 1992, Santos had his first serious injury, fracturing his
right arm and collarbone and cracking his hip in a spill at Belmont
Park. He had 14 screws and two pins inserted to repair the arm.