Jose Abon Santos

Jose Abon Santos

Riding Career:
1984 - 2007
Birth Date:
Hall of Fame:
Career Mounts:
Career Wins:
4,083 (15.7%)

Significant Mounts
Chief Bearhart, Colonial Affair, Criminal Type, Cryptoclearance, Fleet Indian, Fly So Free, Funny Cide, Gulch, Lemon Drop Kid, Manila, Meadow Star, Steinlen, Success Express, Volponi

Major Race Wins
Laurel Futurity (198)
Lawrence Realization Stakes (1985, 2000)
Vosburgh Stakes (1986)
United Nations Handicap (1986, 1988, 1990, 1993)
Mother Goose Stakes (1986)
Vagrancy Handicap (1986, 1992)
Canadian International Stakes (1986, 1997)
Turf Classic Invitational Handicap (1986, 1989)
Hill Prince Stakes (1986, 1987, 1996)
Breeders' Cup Turf (1986)
Florida Derby (1987, 1991)
Wood Memorial Stakes (1987)
Bertram F. Bongard Stakes (1987, 1997, 2002)
Remsen Stakes (1987)
Kentucky Oaks (1987)
Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes (1987, 2005)
Breeders' Cup Juvenile (1987)
Jockey Club Gold Cup (1988, 1994, 2004)
San Fernando Stakes (1988)
Carter Handicap (1988, 1992, 2006)
Brooklyn Handicap (1988)
Metropolitan Handicap (1988, 1990)
Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap (1988, 1989)
Personal Ensign Handicap (1988, 2003)
Futurity Stakes (1989, 1994)
Arlington Million (1989, 1993)
Ladies Handicap (1989, 1990)
Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (1989)
Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap (1989)
Man O' War Stakes (1989)
Breeders' Cup Mile (1989)
Pimlico Special (1990)
Hollywood Gold Cup (1990)
Champagne Stakes (1990)
Dwyer Stakes (1990)
Matron Stakes (1990, 1993)
Frizette Stakes (1990)
Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap (1990)
Breeders' Cup Juvenile (1990)
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (1990)
Strub Stakes (1991)
Jerome Handicap (1991, 2003)
Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap (1991)
Manhattan Handicap (1993, 1998)
Man O' War Stakes (1993)
Saratoga Special Stakes (1994, 1995, 2000)
Withers Stakes (1994, 1995, 2002)
Coaching Club American Oaks (1994, 1995)
Maker's Mark Mile Stakes (1995)
King Edward Stakes (1997)
Tropical Park Oaks (1997)
Breeders' Cup Turf (1997)
Jenny Wiley Stakes (1998)
Travers Stakes (1999)
Belmont Stakes (1999)
Hopeful Stakes (2000)
Fall Highweight Handicap (2001)
Gazelle Handicap (2002)
Maid of the Mist Stakes (2002)
Gallant Bloom Handicap (2002)
Breeders' Cup Classic (2002)
Kentucky Derby (2003)
Preakness Stakes (2003)
Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf (2003)
Belmont Lexington Stakes (2004)
Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap (2004)
Beldame Stakes (2006)
Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks (2006)

Awards / Honors
United States Champion Jockey by Earnings (1986, 1987, 1988, 1989)
Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey (1988)
George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award (1999)
ESPY for Outstanding U.S. Jockey (2003)
Red Smith "Good Guy" Award (2003)
United States' Racing Hall of Fame (2007)

Jose Abon Santos (José Adeón Santos León) is a retired Chilean thoroughbred horse racing Hall of Fame jockey.

Jose Santos first raced horses at Club Hipico de Concepcion in his native Chile, following in the footsteps of his father and three of his seven brothers, and in Colombia until moving to the United States in 1984 where he was the top money-winning jockey four years in a row from 1986 through 1989, winning the 1988 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in the United States. Santos was at the top of the sport during these years. He is a seven-time winner of Breeders' Cup races and won the 1999 Belmont Stakes aboard Lemon Drop Kid. He won the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with Funny Cide but missed winning the American Triple Crown after finishing third in the Belmont Stakes. In recent years, Santos would say that Funny Cide was not the greatest horse he ever rode, but he certainly was his personal favorite.

Santos won the coveted George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1999. The George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award has been presented annually since 1950 to the thoroughbred horse racing jockey in North America who demonstrates high standards of personal and professional conduct both on and off the racetrack. It has long been considered a very high honor to win the George Woolf award as the winning jockey is selected by his or her peers. Santos also won the 2003 ESPY Awards as the outstanding jockey in the United States. Santos has long been a fan favorite and one of the most well liked and respected jockeys in the sport.

Santos and his first wife, Maria, who was from Roslyn Heights, divorced in 1994. They had two children. Daughter Sophia Santos graduated in 2005 from Roslyn High School. She briefly attended Fashion Institute of Technology. Son Jose Ricardo Santos is a 2007 Roslyn High School graduate. He is currently serving as a U.S. Marine.

Libel Lawsuit

In 2004, Santos and Sackatoga Stable, owners of thoroughbred Funny Cide, filed a $48 million libel suit against The Miami-Herald over a story by freelance writer Frank Carlson and photo that appeared in its May 10, 2003 issue, seven days after Santos won the Kentucky Derby.

The photo, with accompanying comments, was posted highlighting what appeared to be a metallic object in Santos's right hand as he and Funny Cide crossed the finish line. The picture, due to the angle it was taken from, made it appear as if Santos was holding an object in his right hand, and as such the photo raised initial suspicion that Santos had cheated to win the world famous race. Subsequent developments furthered some of the suspicions. When asked about what the photo appeared to show, Santos thought the reporter was asking about an object around his wrist, and was quoted as identifying the object as a "cue ring", triggering an investigation.

The Chilean-born jockey, who speaks with a very thick accident, tried to later explain that he had called the object around his wrist a "Q ray," which is a magnetic bracelet worn by athletes to ease joint pain.

Santos hired attorney David Travis to defend him before the Kentucky Racing Commission. Experts were called in to examine the initial photo, and numerous others (actually the same shot from a variety of angles). At the conclusion of the investigation, Santos was cleared of all charges. The results of the investigation showed that in reality Santos did not have an object in his hand and it was the angle of the photo that only made it appear that way. Other photos and angles showed absolutely nothing in Santos' hand and that it would have been virtually impossible for him to be holding anything.

Santos and the owners of Funny Cide sued the publisher of The Miami-Herald. The $48 million libel suit was settled in 2008. Santos's Palm Beach attorney, litigator Bruce S. Rogow, told reporters his client was "pleased" with the confidential terms.

Advertising Controversy

Jose Santos was also one of the first of five top jockeys to wear advertising patches in the Kentucky Derby, starting in 2004. They sued on First Amendment grounds, to be allowed to wear ad patches during the race. The ruling was issued on April 21, 2004, by U.S. District Judge John Heyburn in Louisville.

The jockeys in question had been offered substantial endorsement contracts to wear the ad patches, with payments, in some cases, of $30,000 apiece. Wearing the ad patches were legal in other Triple Crown states of New York and Maryland, but were argued by The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority that they might lead to corruption and violated racing tradition.

The other jockeys included Jerry Bailey, John Velazquez, Gary Stevens, and Shane Sellers.


On February 1, 2007, Santos, then 45 years old, was involved in a 3-horse racing accident at Aqueduct Racetrack in NY. He suffered five broken vertabrae, a broken sternum, and several broken ribs. Santos had initially planned to return to riding by late 2007. However, he did not fully recover from his spinal injuries. Advised by his doctors that it would be far too dangerous for him to return to riding and that he would likely end up paralyzed should he have another accident, Santos, along with his wife, Rita, and the support of his children, made the decision to retire. As such, one week before his induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, Santos announced his retirement at several press conferences at Saratoga Race Course. The first press conference was held in the press box at Saratoga Race Course. With Santos maintaining his usual smile, and later getting slightly emotional, he informed the press that he would be retiring. Santos received a standing ovation from all in attendance, with most members of the press waiting to personally shake his hand and wish him well. Another press conference was held in the jockey's room and was televised on the Saratoga Race Course television station. With all of his fellow jockeys in attendance, it was an emotional scene, for not only Santos, but many other jockeys as well. Here as well, Santos received a touching standing ovation from his peers and friends of many years. Almost every jockey in attendance, many from all over the US, waited until the end to greet Santos, some with a handshake and even more with an embracing hug.

An emotional Jose Santos, said: "I am extremely grateful for the career I've had, for the owners and trainers that had faith in me, to my fellow jockeys who helped bring out the best in me and to the fans for their support," Santos said. "Most of all, I am grateful to my family. They have always supported me, and it is tough because every time you ride a horse, you are in danger. They don't have to worry anymore, and that is a relief. 

One week later, when Santos was formally inducted to the Hall of Fame, he received an unprecedented three standing ovations from the crowd. It was one of the largest attended Hall of Fame ceremonies in years. Family and friends accompanied Santos to induction ceremonies at Saratoga, including his second wife, Rita, from whom he is currently separated, and his two eldest children, Jose Ricardo and Sophia, from his first marriage to Maria.

Lifetime stats: 25,928 mounts, 4,083 wins and earnings of $188,561,787 ranking him 11th on the all-time jockey rankings.

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