05/10/2004 12:00AM

Herald to fight Santos lawsuit


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The attorney who filed a $48 million libel lawsuit on behalf of jockey Jose Santos said Monday that he believes The Miami Herald and its parent company, Knight-Ridder Inc., "should be held accountable," while his opponents countered that they plan to "vigorously" defend their position.

David Travis filed the suit last Tuesday, May 4, in U.S. District Court in Louisville. He told Daily Racing Form that a May 2003 article published by the Herald "damaged my client's reputation irreparably." Travis said the suit makes two major claims: that Santos was defamed and libeled because the Herald "printed an untrue story," and that Santos was presented in "a false light" and his privacy invaded.

The article, written by Herald free-lancer Frank Carlson, was printed on May 10, 2003, one week after Santos rode Funny Cide to win the 129th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

The article raised questions about whether Santos was carrying a small metallic object in his right hand along with his whip, and it was accompanied by a photograph of the Derby finish that gave off that initial impression. The implication was that Santos was carrying an illegal device, such as a battery, that could be used to make a horse run faster.

But the object in question turned out to be an optical illusion, according to a Kentucky Racing Commission investigation completed two days after publication of the article and photo.

The Herald article misquoted Santos as saying he was carrying a "cue ring," something that later was found not to exist. Santos later said he meant "Q-Ray," a brand name for a bronze-colored bracelet that is said to ease the symptoms of arthritis.

The article and photo were picked up by virtually every major media outlet in the United States and sparked a controversy about the integrity of racing in general and Santos in particular.

In its Nov. 1 editions, the Herald published a correction in regard to the May 10 story. Tom Fiedler, executive editor of the paper, referred to that correction Monday when he said: "We asserted that we had at no time any evidence that the jockey had acted improperly."

Robert Beatty, attorney and spokesman for the Herald, said Monday: "I can assure you that we will be defending against the allegations vigorously."

Besides Santos, the 23-page suit was filed on behalf of his wife, Rita; his son, Jose Jr.; and Sackatoga Stable, the group that owns Funny Cide. Nine defendants are named: Knight-Ridder, which owns the Herald; the Herald itself; and seven individuals, including Carlson.

The filing last week narrowly beat the one-year statute of limitations that would have allowed the case to expire.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch