11/23/2001 12:00AM

Santos healthy, riding high

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JAMAICA, N.Y. - During the four months he was sidelined by injury, jockey Jose Santos thought long and hard about his career. He decided that he wants to ride for another five to seven years, and he plans on making the most of that time.

"I'm definitely not going to beat Laffit Pincay," Santos said, referring to Thoroughbred racing's all-time winningest rider. "I'm just trying to imitate him a little bit."

Santos, 40, has done quite a nice imitation of late. In the last week, Santos has won a pair of Grade 2 stakes at Aqueduct - the Red Smith and Fall Highweight - and has moved into a three-way tie for third place in Aqueduct's jockey standings. Through Friday, Santos was 11 for 78 at Aqueduct.

His schedule the remaining five weeks of 2001 will preclude him from challenging for any riding titles, but he will certainly have something to build on entering 2002.

"At the moment I feel very confident," Santos said Friday morning while sipping coffee in the track kitchen. "I'm riding very well. A lot of trainers and owners have been watching me very close and see the difference in me right now."

Santos was riding very well in the spring before he broke his wrist while galloping out following a stakes win in May. He did not return to the races until September, and it was a bit of a slow go at first.

But in the last seven weeks, Santos has won five stakes, including a pair aboard Mr. Pleasentfar, a Brazilian-bred horse trained by Marty Wolfson, and the Fall Highweight for D. Wayne Lukas. While Santos is most closely associated with trainer Christophe Clement, he hopes to continue to branch out and ride more for other trainers.

"I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be riding 70 to 80 percent of Christophe's horses," Santos said. "I would like to ride more for everybody, not just one trainer."

Santos plans to ride Sunday and Wednesday at Aqueduct before heading to Miami where he will meet Steve Tyler, the lead singer of Aerosmith, his wife Rita's favorite rock band, on Thursday and attend that group's concert. Santos may return to New York on Dec. 2 for a day.

Sometime in December, Santos will take a week off to undergo lasik surgery on his eyes. He will then ride the last week or two at Calder before Gulfstream starts.

Yonaguska may try Malibu

Yonaguska, winner of Thursday's Fall Highweight Handicap, was scheduled to ship on Sunday to California, where he most likely will be pointed to the Grade 1, $200,000 Malibu at Santa Anita on Dec. 26, assistant trainer Mike Marlow said Friday.

"I would think that would be his next start," said Marlow, assistant to Lukas. "That'd be logical. That would give him five weeks between starts. He's run three hard races since the first of October."

Since getting the summer off, Yonaguska has run third behind Delaware Township in the Forest Hills Handicap and won the Sport Page Handicap and Fall Highweight. The Malibu is run at seven furlongs, a distance at which Yonaguska dead-heated for win in the Grade 1 Hopeful and won the Grade 2 Hutcheson in his 3-year-old debut.

Yonaguska was scheduled to leave Belmont on Friday and van to Kentucky, where he will catch a flight to California.

Burning Roma heads south

Burning Roma, a multiple stakes winner, will spend this winter in Florida with trainer Bill Mott, said Tony Dutrow, the colt's regular trainer.

It will be the second consecutive year that Burning Roma has wintered in Florida without Dutrow. Last winter, following a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Burning Roma was sent by owner Harold Queen to the Tampa Bay Downs barn of Heather Giglio. Burning Roma won the Sam Davis Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby there before being sent back to Dutrow in Maryland.

With Dutrow, Burning Roma won the Sir Barton, Leonard Richards, and Long Branch stakes, before finishing a close third to Point Given in the Grade 1 Haskell. In his last start, Burning Roma finished second to Volponi in the Pegasus.

Dutrow said Burning Roma would leave his Maryland farm on Dec. 1 and ship to Mott's Payson Park barn. Burning Roma's winter campaign could include the Skip Away Handicap and Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

Dutrow said he was hopeful of getting the horse back in April.

"Harold Queen is a real good man, Billy Mott is a very good guy. Whatever the two decide to do is fine with me," Dutrow said. "I'd be happy to get Burning Roma back - and I feel that's what will happen - but I'd be happy to see Burning Roma do good with Billy. The horse comes first."

Amateurs to ride Sunday

The Amateur Riders Club of America will make its annual stop in New York on Sunday. Nine amateur jockeys will participate in a non-wagering event that will be run at noon. The race is at six furlongs for $35,000 maiden claimers. A bonus of $600 will be awarded to the winning trainer.

Among the amateur riders participating are Keith O'Brien, son of trainer Leo O'Brien and the winner of the World Cup II amateur event at Goodwood in July; Eric Cohn, the champion ARCA rider of 1999; Jose Jimenez, who finished second in last year's ARCA race at Aqueduct; and Leigh Offutt, last year's ARCA female champion rider.