Unless he turns out to be another athlete who just cant walk away when it's time, it is anticipated that jockey Jose Santos will announce his retirement from riding the Friday before the Belmont Stakes. Its a case of one painful injury too many that left him one precarious fall away from possible permanent disability.

This is a jockeys life, one of guiding 1,100-pound highly strung beasts while in close quarters in the starting gate and often during a race, a career defined by split-second decisions made at 40 mph without the ability to call a T-O, baby.

Pound for pound, jockeys are among the greatest athletes in sports, certainly among the bravest. And the least understood, or appreciated.

In his prime, which began in this country in South Florida, Santos dominated his competition. Position-conscious and aggressive, he rode the sweet spot in almost every race, becoming the most sought after rider on that circuit. It was the same when he switched his tack to New York.

In the Big Apple, Santos learned patience--some say to a fault--but it was a style that trainers on the good-horse circuit demand. But he remained a great rider of speed horses and developed into one of the best grass riders in the game, where his gift for position and patience often paid great dividends.

He won classics with Lemon Drop Kid and Funny Cide, won an Ohio Derby with Skip Away, and rode champions such as Fly So Free, Meadow Star, Cryptoclearance, Gulch, Criminal Type, Rubiano, Chief Bearhart and Fleet Indian, among many others. Santos has ridden 4,084 winners from 25,936 starters for a worthy career win percentage of 16%--17% in stakes races--and has finished in-the-money 44% of the time. Its been a Hall of Fame career.

Santos suffered fractures of the T7 and T8 vertebrae in a spill last February. Attempts to stimulate bone growth to aid his recuperation have failed, and he has been in constant pain during the rehabilitation process.

Simply stated, Santos cannot risk the possibility of another spill. Jockeys put danger on the back burner as part of their lifes work. But they cannot, nor should they, ride with fear.