05/09/2004 12:00AM

Santos, Sackatoga sue Miami Herald

Jockey Jose Santos (above) and Sackatoga Stable have filed a lawsuit against the Miami Herald as a result of the Herald article that implied that Santos had carried an illegal device during last year's Derby.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Jockey Jose Santos and Sackatoga Stable last week filed a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages against the Miami Herald and its parent company, Knight Ridder, alleging the jockey was libeled in an article published a week after Santos won the Kentucky Derby last May aboard Sackatoga's .

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Louisville by local attorney David Travis, alleges that Santos was misrepresented in the article. The suit says in part that the Herald "in a false light implied that at some point in time, plaintiffs cheated, conspired to cheat, perpetuated a fraud, and purposely and willfully used illegal methods" to win the Derby.

The Herald article was published on May 10, 2003, one week after the Derby. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the finish that gave off the initial impression that Santos was carrying a small metallic object in his right hand, along with his whip. The implication was that Santos was carrying an illegal device, such as a battery that could be used to make a horse run faster.

Upon further review, however, the object in question turned out to be an optical illusion, according to a Kentucky Racing Commission investigation.

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 worn 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 major controversy about the integrity of racing in general and Santos in particular. Although the

Commission reacted quickly and thoroughly when announcing May 12 that Santos had been absolved of any wrongdoing, the controversy lingered as the Triple Crown trail went through the Preakness in Baltimore the following weekend.

The Herald article was written by freelancer Frank Carlson, who was one of several individuals named as co-defendants in the suit. Carlson continues to write for the Herald.

The Herald eventually published a correction on the story several months after it ran.

Santos met Travis through a Churchill Downs "host" program that utilizes local citizens to assist owners of Derby horses on Derby weekend. Travis was the host for Sackatoga Stable, owner of Funny Cide.

Funny Cide and Santos won the Preakness but finished third in the Belmont, the final leg of the Triple Crown.