02/08/2007 12:00AM

Santos set for release wearing body cast


Jockey Jose Santos was expected to be released from North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., on Friday, but he still faces a long recuperative period, and his riding future is uncertain.

Santos, 45, suffered a shattered T-7 vertebrae and a compressed T-8 vertebrae in a spill at Aqueduct on Feb.o1. The shattered vertebrae came perilously close to a main nerve that controls the motor-skill functions from the neck down. Santos was able to get out of bed and walk around briefly on Wednesday, according to his wife, Rita.

Jose Santos was fitted with a body cast that is designed to stabilize the vertebrae and promote healing. Santos is supposed to wear the cast for a minimum of three months. Santos will undergo an MRI in approximately two weeks to get an idea how the healing process is going.

For now, doctors have put off doing any surgery. If the doctors are pleased with the progress, Santos would return to his south Florida residence to convalesce.

Rita Santos said doctors have not even broached the subject about when or if Jose will be able to ride again.

"They won't even talk about it, and we haven't asked," Rita Santos said.

Santos has won 4,083 races in his career and was the Eclipse Award winning rider of 1988. He won the 2003 Kentucky Derby aboard Funny Cide.

Rita Santos wanted to thank all the people who reached out to her and Jose in the last week.

Meanwhile, another jockey was involved in a spill Thursday morning, as Channing Hill was unseated from a horse he was breezing at Belmont when another horse bolted and came into him at the quarter pole. Hill was taken to North Shore along with Sydney Trottman, the exercise rider of the other horse. Both riders were examined and released.

Neither horse was injured, according to their connections.