Updated on 09/17/2011 10:28AM

Derby probe centers on Santos

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
This photo was called "very suspicious" by a steward at Churchill Downs. More photos, enlargement: Click here.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Churchill Downs stewards, in conjunction with the Kentucky Racing Commission, on Saturday launched an investigation into whether jockey Jose Santos may have been carrying an illegal object such as a battery when he rode Funny Cide to victory in the May 3 Kentucky Derby.

The investigation was prompted by an article in Saturday's editions of The Miami Herald and a photo that ran in the Herald and several other newspapers. The photo, taken by Jamie Squire of Getty Images, "depicts a dark area in the space between Santos' right hand and his whip," the Herald reported. Santos and Funny Cide had just crossed the finish line when the photo was taken. According to the Herald, steward Rick Leigh of Churchill Downs called the photo "very suspicious."

Santos, speaking Saturday at Belmont Park in New York, where he rides regularly, strongly denied that he had anything in his hand during the Derby other than the whip. He called the Herald story "completely stupid."

Down the stretch in the Derby, Santos switched his stick three times, first going right-handed, then left, and then right again nearing the wire. Just after he crossed the wire, Santos started to rise in the saddle and twirled the whip.

"I'd have to be a magician," to have a battery, Santos said. "Where am I going to hide that thing?

"I want to get to the bottom of this," he added. "I want my name cleared. Definitely, this is very stupid, very unfair."

Bernie Hettel, chief steward and executive director for the commission, said at a press conference Saturday afternoon in the Churchill press box that the investigation is a pending matter and that state regulations prohibit comment. He took no questions after making a brief statement.

Santos is scheduled to meet with Kentucky officials Monday at 8 a.m. Eastern at Churchill Downs. Santos will be represented by Karen Murphy, a New York attorney who specializes in Thoroughbred racing. Jack Knowlton, the head of the Sackatoga Stable which owns Funny Cide, said Saturday that he also is contemplating being represented by counsel at the meeting.

Santos claimed the authors of the story, Frank Carlson and Clark Spencer, misinterpreted him when he told them he was wearing a "Q-Ray," a magnetic bracelet used by many athletes to treat pain associated with arthritis. The story quotes Santos as saying he had a "cue ring," which the story said is a device used to alert outriders. There is no such thing as a cue ring.

Carlson issued a statement Saturday that said in part: "It's quite possible that I misunderstood what he said and the language barrier could have been a problem."

Santos, who received the bracelet the day before the Derby as a gift from his wife, Rita, says he suffers from arthritis. He wears the bracelet on his left wrist.

Barclay Tagg, trainer of Funny Cide, discounted the story, as did Knowlton.

"It's absurd," said Tagg.

"This is just totally ludicrous," Knowlton said, "just a distraction we don't need going into the Preakness."

The Getty picture was likely taken as Santos started to move the whip in celebratory fashion, which could account for some space between his hand and the whip. It's possible that the green silks worn by Jerry Bailey aboard the second-place finisher, Empire Maker, could be seen through Santos's hand.

Leigh, the Churchill steward, said earlier Saturday that he and fellow stewards Hettel and Jack Middleton were in the process of examining photos. The stewards also have been in consultation with a representative of the Kentucky Attorney General's office, said Leigh.

The Santos investigation is reminiscent of a similar post-Derby furor in 1995. Slow-motion videotape appeared to show Gary Stevens, who rode winner Thunder Gulch, handing off a small object to Pat Day, who rode Timber Country, as they galloped out past the finish line. A subsequent investigation found no wrongdoing.

A battery has been known to be used by jockeys to shock a horse into giving an all-out effort during a race. The most famous recent incident involving known usage of a battery was by jockey Billy Patin in his 1999 Arkansas Derby win aboard Valhol. Patin subsequently was suspended for five years.