06/17/2002 11:00PM

Santos in midst of career resurgence at age 41


ELMONT, N.Y. - With five weeks remaining in the Belmont meet, there is a five-way tussle for leading rider honors as a quintet of jockeys are within four wins of each other. The battle contains the usual suspects - Jerry Bailey, John Velazquez, Jorge Chavez, and Edgar Prado - and one surprising name: Jose Santos.

Through Sunday, Santos had ridden 24 winners, tying him for third place with Chavez, who won three races Sunday while Santos was out of town. That duo is three wins behind Bailey and Velazquez, who are tied with 27 wins apiece. Prado has 23.

Santos, 41, has not won a Belmont riding title since the spring of 1989 when he capped a four-year period as North America's leading money- earning jockey. He credits his resurgence, in large part, to agent Mike Sellito, whom Santos hired when he returned to New York from Florida this spring.

"He's really been doing a wonderful job, getting me on horses with shots,'' Santos said between races Saturday. "When you're riding horses that are 6-1 or 5-1 or even 2-1 you ride with a lot more confidence than you do with a horse you're riding that's 20-1 or 30-1. It's been fun to have a meet like this; I feel rejuvenated.''

Of Santos's 24 winners, only five went off at odds of 4-1 or greater. While six of his winners have come for his main client, Christophe Clement, Santos has ridden winners for 17 other trainers at this meet.

Santos missed virtually the entire 2001 Belmont spring meet and all of Saratoga after breaking his arm in a spill following a stakes win in Chicago last May. Santos believes he's in as good a shape now as he ever was and plans to ride for at least another six or seven years.

"I'm fitter now than I was five years ago,'' he said.

Hennig plays the heavy in Phipps

Trainer Mark Hennig will send out the two highweights in Saturday's $300,000 Phipps Handicap (formerly the Hempstead Handicap) in Raging Fever (120 pounds) and Mystic Lady (117).

Raging Fever is 9 for 14 lifetime and suffered her first Belmont Park defeat when she finished second behind Shiny Band in last month's Grade 2 Shuvee Handicap. Though arguably best up to a mile, Raging Fever as a 2-year-old won the Grade 1 Frizette at the Phipps distance of 1 1/16 miles.

"It's somewhat of a test, but she's passed the test before,'' Hennig said. "She didn't appear to struggle with a mile too much.''

Hennig is still not totally sure what happened to Mystic Lady when she finished last, beaten 33 1/2 lengths as the 1-5 favorite in the Nastique Stakes at Delaware on June 1. Hennig said the filly hit her head on the gate attempting to break before it opened, and may have been dazed during the race.

Prior to that debacle, Mystic Lady had won four stakes and was second to Spain in the Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Monday, Mystic Lady breezed four furlongs in 49.44 seconds while Raging Fever went the same distance in 48.99 seconds.

Others pointing to the Grade 1 race include Shiny Band (115), Critical Eye (114), Two Item Limit (114), Happily Unbridled (113), Too Scarlet (113), and Hope's Expectation (112). Ask Me No Secrets (115) is questionable for the race.

At Aqueduct on Monday, Critical Eye, last year's Hempstead winner, worked five furlongs in 1:01.68, and Hope's Expectation covered the same ground in 1:00.15, handily, posting the bullet of 12 moves at the distance.

Gygistar to Dwyer

Gygistar, a 4 1/2-length winner of the Riva Ridge Stakes, will make his next start in the Dwyer Stakes on July 7, Hennig confirmed.

"A one-turn mile and a sixteenth should give us an indication whether we move forward to go in something like the Jim Dandy or cut back and point for something like the King's Bishop,'' Hennig said.

Gygistar, a 3-year-old gelded son of Prospector's Music, is 4 for 5 lifetime with two wins at seven furlongs.

Gygistar is likely to face Wood Memorial winner Buddha in the Dwyer.

* A silver gilt cup that's nearly 200 years old has been donated by trophy company F. Gorevic & Son to serve as the permanent trophy for Saturday's Ogden Phipps Handicap. Charles Gorevic and his son Roger donated the specific trophy because of Ogden Phipps's fondness for it. The cup, valued at more than $20,000 was made in Birmingham, England, in 1822.