Jose Santos hasn’t ridden a horse for more than 15 years but he never wanted to leave the track. But finding the right role proved difficult. He has been selling animal feed for years but says he is at a loss because so many people refuse to pay the bills. But about a month ago, Santos, 61, found something new when he signed with Enviro Equine as a salesman. He said it fits very well.
“I like it because it allows me to mingle with people from the racetrack,” says Santos. “I went sales in Kentucky and visited coaches and farms where I live in Florida. I am selling supplements and vitamins for horses. It’s good for them. They are good products.”
Enviro Equine calls itself a “farm to barn” operation, focusing on sustainable practices for animals and the planet, working only with suppliers committed to sustainability and excellence.
Santos’ career ended on February 1, 2007 when he was involved in the Aqueduct oil spill, which resulted in five broken vertebrae, broken sternum and several broken ribs. He planned to ride for another 4 years, retiring at the age of 50. But his doctor advises against doing so.
“It’s a tough way to go out,” he said. “I was planning on riding until I was 50, so my career was cut short a bit. The doctor told me the best thing was for me to retire, but I should decide for myself. I called my mother and told her that I had been dumped twice. My mother said don’t wait for the third person. I exit. I’ve done enough. I am 46 years old. I made the right decision.”
Santos began his career in his native Chile before moving to Colombia. He came to the United States in 1984. He led all jockeys in earnings from 1986 to 1989 and in 1988 he won the Eclipse Award as an athlete. the sport’s premier equestrian. Santos won 4,083 races, including the 2003 GI Kentucky Derby and 2003 GI Preakness S. Funny Cide and 1999 GI Belmont with Lemon Drop Kid (Kingmambo). He also won seven Breeders’ Cup races and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.
He said that Crime Type (Alydar) was the best horse he had ever ridden. In 1990, Santos teamed up with Criminal Type to win the GI Pimlico Special, GI Metropolitan H., GI Hollywood Gold Cup and GI Whitney H. Trained by Wayne Lukas, Criminal Type was named the Horse of the Year 1990.
Six months after the 2007 oil spill, he announced his retirement, saying that if he had another accident he feared he would no longer be able to walk. For the first few years after retiring, Santos said he enjoyed his retirement comfortably. About 5 years ago, he started an animal feed business, which was not for him.
“I was in the wrong business,” he said. “I sold animal feed. There were a lot of good people and they paid me. But many people didn’t pay me and I lost money. Instead of continuing to lose money, I stopped.”
He still makes time to watch the sport and says he enjoys watching races on television with his 9-year-old son. What does he think of today’s racers?
“It’s a great group of jockeys and there are a lot of really good young riders like the Ortiz brothers,” he said. “I like Manny Franco too. You still have Johnny (Velazquez) and (Joel) Rosario. Tyler Gaffalione is a phenomenal racer.”
What has changed, says Santos, is that the current group of riders can become reckless.
“It was a different era,” he said. “They ride completely differently from the way we used to ride. They are a bit careless. We used to take care of each other. If someone has a problem, we’ll help you. Now, there are a lot of collisions. Now they have managers who work harder. It was a different time. Money is not bad, great. If I rode now, I might as well ride like them.”
The oil spill may have cost him a few years, but it didn’t take away all he’s achieved.
“I’ve had a great career,” Santos said. “I’ve been riding for 31 years and I’ve had great success in New York. I’ve won the Eclipse Award and I’ve won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont. Best of all, I was inducted into the Hall of Fame. I am very happy with my entire career.”