It's to be understood if spectators and television viewers watching the Preakness yesterday read something into Jose Santos' open right hand as he crossed the finish line aboard Funny Cide.
After all, it was that same right hand that carried the whip at the Kentucky Derby and caused so much trouble. The Miami Herald ran a photograph May 10 that appeared to show Santos carrying something in addition to his whip in his win at Churchill Downs.
But Santos, who yesterday waved his right hand while keeping the whip in his left, declared there was nothing to read into the gesture.
"I was hitting right-handed and then I switched to the left," Santos said. "I did it because it was best for the horse."
According to Santos, Funny Cide didn't need much encouragement or anything else from him, as the gelding gave him a terrific ride and vindication.
"The Derby Saturday [was] one of the happiest moments of my life, to win a race like that," Santos said. "And then the bomb blew up, and that was not nice."
Santos said his wife, agent and attorney worked for 24 hours last week to get the photos that proved he had not been carrying an electrical device, only a whip.
"We went to a meeting for two hours in Louisville, Ky., and everything was clear," Santos said of the stewards' inquiry at Churchill Downs after his win May 3. "The only thing that I want to do [is] to have a clear mind, to come and ride this race. I think if you have worries or whatever, you ride this horse. He wants to win, no matter what."
Funny Cide certainly cleared all doubt about his ability to win a Triple Crown race yesterday and continued Santos' roll. The 42-year-old Chilean native rode Volponi to victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic last fall. He earned the seventh Breeders' Cup victory of his career that day and finished 2002 ranked ninth on the purse-earnings list with $11.9 million.
Santos took Funny Cide from Post 9 on an outside path and moved him into an inside position, where the horse wrested the lead away from Peace Rules and ran away from the field, winning by 9 3/4 lengths.
Santos said he gave the horse a loose rein on the back side, and Funny Cide relaxed. Then, at the quarter pole, Santos picked up the pace, and the horse responded.
"When I picked the reins up, he picked it up and just kept going," Santos said. "I started getting busy on him, hit him three or four times and pushed him, pushed him and then switched to the left, and he responded even more."
Said trainer Barclay Tagg: "I thought Jose did a super job of getting him in position without losing ground. The nine hole isn't the favorite hole you would want, I don't think, but still it worked out fine today. He overcame it, Jose overcame it, and it worked out beautifully."
Santos now returns to Belmont, where he has been a staple for 19 years and where he rode Lemon Drop Kid to a Belmont Stakes win in 1999.
This time, however, he'll be making a push for the Triple Crown aboard Funny Cide.
"I've been riding for 27 years, and this is the best horse I've ever rode in my life," Santos said. "We're going to have Funny Cide for a long time."
Jose Santos' wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness give the jockey three in Triple Crown races since his Triple Crown debut in the 1986 Belmont. Santos' record in the big three:
Bests: First on Funny Cide, 2003 Fourth on Cryptoclearance, 1987
Bests: First on Funny Cide, 2003 Third on Cryptoclearance, 1987
Bests: First on Lemon Drop Kid, 1999 Second on Kissin Kris, 1993