His mount, a 44-1 shot named Julia's Signal, had just crossed the finish line a badly beaten eighth in the field of nine in Sunday's fourth race at Belmont Park, but the sluggish performance didn't discourage jockey Jose Amy from hurling his arms in the air and letting out a joyous scream. "I'm back," he shouted, as a handful of railbirds looked on curiously.
Amy, 51, was a race fixer, a key player in a scandal that landed the sport on the Nov. 6, 1978, cover of SI (above). He became a repentant and aging exile, all but begging for forgiveness while arguing that the punishment--an indefinite suspension--did not fit the crime. Late last month the New York State Racing and Wagering Board cleared Amy to ride. Eighteen days after the ruling and more than 24 years after he last rode in New York, Amy climbed aboard Julia's Signal. "If my life should end now, I would still be the happiest man alive," he said. "This is where I belong. I went through some very hard times."
Most of those were of his own doing. Given criminal immunity in exchange for his testimony, Amy admitted he restrained seven horses during races in 1974 and 1975. He said he was paid $1,500 each time he took part in races rigged by gamblers who cashed large bets by wagering only on the horses ridden by jockeys not in on the fix. He fingered 11 other riders, including future Hall of Famers Angel Cordero Jr., Jorge Velasquez and Jacinto Vasquez, all of whom denied wrongdoing. (Amy's testimony did not result in any convictions or suspensions.) The confession kept Amy out of prison but didn't stop the NYSRWB from lifting his license. He has since ridden periodically in his native Puerto Rico, competing for small purses and pining for a return to the big time. He inched closer in 2001 when he was granted a license to exercise horses in New York and then fought for reinstatement, armed with a petition signed by more than 40 trainers.
A modestly successful rider when barred, Amy has lost his prime and will likely struggle to return to the winner's circle with any regularity. He doesn't seem to care. "My life is starting over again," he says. "That means everything to me. I am a jockey again." --Bill Finley
OSCAR ABOLAFIA (AMY)
ADAM COGLIANESE (AMY ON HORSE)
ILLUSTRATION BY ROY ANDERSEN (COVER)