01/03/2003 12:00AM

A whole new ballgame for Santos


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - His resume would be the envy of almost any jockey in the country. A list of accomplishments that includes seven Breeders' Cup victories, four national money titles, countless riding championships and an Eclipse Award as the nation's best jockey in 1988.

But for all those accomplishments, Jose Santos's career appeared to be at a crossroads midway through the 2002 Gulfstream Park meeting as he struggled to win races and hold on to even some of his most loyal clients.

"A lot of people had started to think of me as a second-class rider already," Santos said shortly before going out to accept his first mount of the 2003 Gulfstream session. "But I wasn't discouraged. I've been in this business my whole life and gone through my share of ups and downs. This is a tough meet, and I just wasn't getting the right mounts. And no matter where you go, a good rider still has to have good horses or they're not going to do anything."

Santos's fortunes began to rise during the second half of last winter, and he eventually concluded the meet with 27 wins, including and a victory in the Grade 2 Orchid Stakes aboard Julie Jalouse for his biggest supporter, trainer Christophe Clement.

But for the 41-year-old Santos, the best was yet to come.

"I decided to change agents around Florida Derby day and hired Mike Sellito," said Santos, referring to the veteran New York agent. "And from then on things just took off. When we returned to New York I started riding for people I hadn't ridden for in years, if ever at all. Trainers like Gary Contessa and Jimmy Jerkens. I could name 20 names. And once I started winning races, my confidence level jumped up about 150 percent. Step by step the quality of the mounts kept getting better and better, and we kept winning bigger and bigger races."

Santos's amazing resurgence was capped off by the most important win of his already illustrious career: an unlikely victory aboard longshot Volponi for trainer P.G. Johnson in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"I'd never ridden much for Mr. Johnson and probably hadn't ridden for him in five years," said Santos. "I asked him to ride Volponi in the Sword Dancer, and he ran well, finishing third. I lost the mount after his next start when we got beat as the heavy favorite" in the Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap.

"But," said Santos, "after Volponi finished second in the Meadowlands Cup, Mr. Johnson asked me if I'd ride him again on Breeders' Cup Day, in the Classic or the Mile."

The rest is history. Santos put up a textbook-perfect performance aboard Volponi, riding the rail to win the Classic by 6 1/2 lengths at 43-1. The victory put an exclamation mark on one of the brightest comeback stories of the year.

"That win was the icing on the cake for me," said Santos. "It was an unbelievable feeling and so important for me as far as my career is concerned. Now, unlike last year, I'm coming into Gulfstream feeling really strong and confident."

Santos, who has never won the Kentucky Derby, was at the Palm Meadows training center on Friday morning to work his top 3-year-old prospect, Funny Cide, six furlongs in 1:13.40 for trainer Barclay Tagg. The New York-bred Funny Cide is undefeated in three starts and is among the nominees for the $1 million Florida Derby.

Rose back at the track

Trainer Harold Rose, whose Hal's Hope was the upset winner of the 2000 Florida Derby and 2002 Gulfstream Park Handicap, both Grade 1 events, was in attendance for Thursday's closing-day program at Calder. Rose is recuperating after having his left leg amputated last fall.

"I'm starting to come around slowly but surely," said the 90-year-old Rose who also owned and bred Hal's Hope. "I've been fitted six times for a prosthesis and hopefully I'll have one within the next couple of weeks. Then I can begin thinking about getting back out to the barn again."

Ivanavinalot nears return

Trainer Kathleen O'Connell reports that Ivanavinalot, south Florida's leading 2-year-old filly in 2002, is back in training and being pointed for the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Oaks at Santa Anita on Jan. 25.

Ivanavinalot won five of her six starts at 2, including three stakes, and was among the leading candidates for the 2002 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies before having to be scratched on the eve of the race because of a minor illness.

"We sent her to the farm for a month, but she's been back at Calder galloping since Dec. 1 and will have her first breeze this weekend," said O'Connell, who trains Ivanavinalot for breeder Gil Campbell.

"Right now our plans are up in the air," O'Connell said, "although the seven-furlong Sunshine Million race looks like a good spot to bring her back if all goes well. Our main goals here this winter are the Davona Dale and Bonnie Miss stakes, with the ultimate goal the Kentucky Oaks."

Jump-starting a meeting

In large part because the 2002 Gulfstream meet got off to a sluggish start, Scott Savin, the track's president, has been especially intent on getting this meet off the ground quickly.

Besides the move to a five-day race week, Savin also implemented progressive pick six pools for the three-day opening weekend. Regardless of what occurred Friday or Saturday, the guarantee for a perfect ticket Sunday is $100,000. If no one wins, then the jackpot carries over to Wednesday.

Corey Johnsen, who as group vice president for Gulfstream's owner, the Magna Entertainment Corp., oversees four of the company's properties, said Savin has worked especially hard to try to ensure a better start at this meet.

Business figures during the early stages of the 2002 meet were down by more than 10 percent in comparison with 2001, partly because of fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but also because of a weak racing product.

"With the shorter week, we're striving for more quality," said Johnsen. "The pick six was Scott's idea to jump-start interest in our signal following eight straight days at Calder. He and his staff are well aware of the problems we had here last year and are trying to come up with the right answers."

Johnsen said that depending on what happens with the progressive pick six this weekend, "we would consider bringing it back later in the meet if we get the desired effect."

Remediate going for black type

At one point in her career, Remediate was a mere 1 for 16. But by winning three of her last four starts, the 6-year-old mare has earned a shot at graded stakes type, starting in the Honey Fox Handicap here Sunday.

"We're taking a shot," said Phil Oliver, who trains Remediate for Brian Klatsky. "She's earned almost $120,000 and she's been really consistent for more than a year. Obviously we'd love to get her stakes-placed."

Most recently, Remediate used a terrific late kick to win a December allowance at Calder, her first race in 4 1/2 months.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee