06/05/2003 12:00AM

A jockey's perspective


Jose Santos, 42, has been aboard Funny Cide for all eight of his races, which totals five victories, including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

Santos first worked Funny Cide last summer at Saratoga at the behest of his agent, Mike Sellitto, who asked trainer Barclay Tagg to let Santos work Funny Cide. Although Funny Cide was several weeks from a race, Sellitto knew Funny Cide had been training well, having been alerted by friends at the farm where Funny Cide received his early training.

According to Sellitto, Tagg wanted jockey Edgar Prado to work Funny Cide on a Tuesday, when there is no racing in New York. Prado could not make it. So Sellitto lobbied Tagg to let Santos work Funny Cide instead.

Here, in his own words, is how Santos recalls each of the eight rides, from a maiden victory last fall to the Preakness Stakes three weeks ago, and some reflections by Santos on the development Funny Cide has shown over the past nine months.

Maiden Special Weight

Six furlongs, New York-breds

First by 14 3/4 lengths

BELMONT PARK, Sept. 8, 2002 - When my agent told me I had to work a horse for Barclay Tagg, I said, 'Why do I have to work a horse for that grouchy guy?' But after I worked him, I told my agent he was a real nice horse. That night, I told my wife, Rita, I thought I had found my Kentucky Derby horse. She said, 'Huh?' Then I told her he was a New York-bred, and she started laughing. Then at dinner I told her he was a gelding, and she said I was insane. He just had one problem. When you would take a hold of him, he would bear out. That's when the assistant trainer, Robin Smullen, got on him and fixed the problem. His first start was easy.

Bertram F. Bongard Stakes

Seven furlongs, New York-breds

First by 9 lengths

BELMONT PARK, Sept. 29 - It was only three weeks later, but he won easy again. For his first three races, he had crazy speed.

Sleepy Hollow Stakes

One mile, New York-breds

First by a neck

BELMONT PARK, Oct. 19 - He struggled. He barely won. Barclay and Robin were very nervous before the race. I found out why after the race. He had a lung infection. He went back to work a month later, but he was useless. He worked terrible. They decided not to run him any more that year.

Holy Bull Stakes

1 1/16 miles

Fifth, beaten by 6 1/2 lengths

GULFSTREAM PARK, Jan. 18, 2003 - He had been training at Palm Meadows. He wasn't quite ready, and he had post 13. It was a disaster. He hit the gate, he was wide, but he kept trying and trying.

Louisiana Derby

1 1/16 miles

Third, beaten by 3 1/4 lengths

FAIR GROUNDS, March 9 - He got passed, but he kept trying to come back. I told Barclay he just needed more distance.

Wood Memorial

1 1/8 miles

Second, beaten by a half-length

AQUEDUCT, April 12 - He ran a hell of a race. After the race, I was 100 percent sure we could beat Empire Maker. A lot of people thought Empire Maker won easy, but I thought he was all out and my horse put in a good effort. When they pulled up after the wire, Funny Cide was two lengths clear of Empire Maker right away. I thought he just needed a little more distance. The Tuesday after the race, I saw him jog, and he jogged beautifully. I told my agent, 'Listen to me, we are going to win the Kentucky Derby.'

Kentucky Derby

1 1/4 miles

First by 1 3/4 lengths

CHURCHILL DOWNS, May 3 - In my mind, Funny Cide was the horse to beat that day. It was a big field, but Funny Cide has beautiful speed. He was laying close down the backside. Down the stretch, there was one horse inside him, Peace Rules, and one horse outside him, Empire Maker, both trained by Bobby Frankel. The middle is the toughest place to be. I hit him left-handed, and he responded. He never quit. He kept digging and digging.

Preakness Stakes

1 3/16 miles

First by 9 3/4 lengths

PIMLICO RACE COURSE, May 17 - I was worried about the post position, post 9, but we were in great position passing the wire the first time. When I asked him, he went right away. He opened up three or four lengths in the blink of an eye. He proved 100 percent he was much the best of any horse in the Derby and Preakness. The last three races he's improved three or four lengths every time.

Final comments

He's so much different now. They changed the bit on him after his first few races. He's more controllable. You can move outside, inside, no problem. You can do what you want. And he has beautiful speed. He can lay close enough, or if there's no speed he can set the pace.

There was a lot of work between Barclay and Robin. She did a wonderful job, teaching him how to settle down. His stride is so long, I just have to be quiet until it is time. As soon as I move my hands, he responds right away. He goes forward, and he goes fast.