SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Jose Santos has to defeat Angel Cordero to win the riding title at Saratoga, which is difficult. He has to defeat Angel Cordero after missing the first five days of the meet because of a suspension. Is it impossible?
Not necessarily, said Santos, the only jockey to defeat Cordero for the Saratoga riding title since 1975. Monday, he began his mission next-to-impossible, returning from his forced vacation and winning two races -- one more than Cordero.
It was an encouraging beginning to the meet and the first sign that perhaps the Saratoga title is not out of his reach. After all, it was Santos and Chris Antley who came into the 24-day meet with momentum and not Cordero, who had a quiet spring meet at Belmont Park. Santos also was more in demand among the better stables, particularly the Wayne Lukas barn.
"Jose Santos would be the favorite if not for the five days he lost," Drew Mollica, Cordero's agent, said.
The score now reads Cordero 9, Santos 3. Yesterday, Cordero was shutout and Santos won the feature, the $75,000-added Nijana Stakes, aboard Jefforee, who returned $8.
Still, Cordero is the favorite, Santos the main threat.
"We never know what will happen," Santos said. "You can't give up until the end, and we'll just keep trying. Angel is always tough here."
"It definitely can be done, there's no question about it," Frank Sanabria, Santos's agent, said. "We have some good mounts coming up, especially in the stakes races. It's just a matter of a little luck."
Santos's suspension was costly. Besides falling eight winners behind Cordero, he had to take off winning stakes mounts on potential horse of the year Criminal Type in the Whitney Handicap and potential Eclipse Award winner Meadow Star in the Schuylerville. Two other horses he rode in their previous starts at Belmont already have won at the meet.
It was miserable and wet Sunday at Saratoga, but Santos did not seem to mind. He was back; that was all that mattered.
"I couldn't stand to wait much more," said Santos, who spent part of his suspension at Lake George. "Being back is making me real happy."
He won with his third mount of the day, guiding Serape ($7.80) through the slop and into the winner's circle. Santos ended the day with a victory aboard Nature's Best ($8.60) in the ninth.
The jockey race, no doubt, would be a lot closer had Santos not been suspended, a penalty many felt he did not deserve. He received his days for his ride aboard Royalty Watcher here last year and, following an appeal, it was ruled that he must serve the penalty at the Saratoga meet.
Cordero also was ordered to serve a suspension at Saratoga, but he went to the courts and so far has received a stay. It gave him what could be an insurmountable advantage over the rider most feel is the heir to his throne.
"I think I did the right thing by not fighting this further," Santos said. "They could have brought back the days for the Breeders' Cup. It's better to get it over with now. We've lost a lot, but there's plenty more coming."
The pursuit continues.