07/30/2007 12:00AM

Santos retires from saddle


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Jockey Jose Santos announced his retirement Monday afternoon at Saratoga, one week before his induction into the racing Hall of Fame on Aug. 6.

Santos, 46, had been attempting to come back from injuries suffered in a three-horse spill at Aqueduct on Feb. 1. Santos suffered five fractures in his spine.

"My back is in real bad shape, and my doctor advised me that it would not be a good idea to come back to ride because one more spill and I might not walk again," said Santos. "I got real lucky the last time, and I believe retiring is in the best interests for me and my kids. I want to be available to walk and play with them and my grandchildren."

Santos said that a comparison of CT scans taken in April and July showed only a 2 percent improvement in his injuries.

"My doctor said the way the vertebrae were pressing against the spinal cord, there would be an 80 percent chance that I could wind up in a wheelchair if I continued to ride," he said.

Santos retires with 4,083 career victories from 25,290 mounts and earnings of over $187 million. He was just recently supplanted as the 10th-leading rider of all time in total earnings by John Velazquez.

Santos rode his first race at Hipico Racecourse in Chile. He came to the U.S. in 1984 and he began his career riding in south Florida at Gulfstream Park, Hialeah and Calder. He moved to New York in 1985 and became the country's leading rider in money won the next four years. His career highlights include his victories aboard Funny Cide in the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

"Funny Cide probably wasn't the best horse I rode, but he'll always be my favorite because he gave me my only Kentucky Derby win, which is the dream of every rider," said Santos.

Santos said he is pursuing several broadcast opportunities. He is doing a daily segment on New York City Off-Track Betting's "A.M. Saratoga" television show.

"Going into the Hall of Fame will probably make things easier for me and open new doors that might not otherwise be available," said Santos.

- additional reporting by David Grening