P. Val wants to be among new faces at Santa Anita

Dec 21, 2004 5:25 AM

You won’t be able to tell the players without a scorecard when jockeys are given a leg up on opening day at Santa Anita Sunday.

Gone is Alex Solis, recuperating from injuries in a spill at Del Mar last July and not expected to resume riding until February.

Gone is Corey Nakatani, finally serving a 30-day suspension that was issued last March. The ban begins Sunday after months of delays winding through a maze known as the American legal system.

The absence of Solis and Nakatani offers a panoramic vista for agents hustling mounts, since Alex and Corey have been two of the leading riders in Southern California for more than a decade.

Bettors would also do well to note that two Hall of Fame jockeys have new agents, which should reflect on their business and, subsequently, their number of winners. Kent Desormeaux has dropped Brad Pegram and replaced him with the charismatic former nomad, Harry (The Hat) Hacek. Mike Smith has given loquacious Corey Black his walking papers and hired Brad Pegram, not to be confused with his father, Jim Pegram, who books mounts for Garrett Gomez.

Toss into the mix relatively new faces like Alex Bisono, David Cohen, Casey Fusilier, Tony Farina, Kyle Kaenel and Jorge Espitia, and come-backing Joe Steiner, returning from a depressed vertebrae suffered in a spill at Fairplex Park on Sept. 12, and it is understandable why some riders might need a miners’ lamp to find the jocks’ room.

One who would not is Patrick Valenzuela. All Patrick needs to return to the saddle is permission from an administrative law judge. Presently, the 42-year-old rider is serving a suspension that was issued last Aug. 6 by Del Mar stewards and runs through Dec. 31 (the term of his current conditional license. The stewards, who initially issued their suspension on July 2 pending a formal hearing, also recommended that Valenzuela not be considered for future licensing by the California Horse Racing Board).

It might seem like Valenzuela has fallen below the radar screen since failing to provide proper hair follicles for drug testing, but he is alive and well and merely vamping until ready.

"I’m waiting for the results of a hearing before an administrative law judge that was held on Nov. 12," said Valenzuela, who had been riding for several years under terms of a conditional license agreement, which was amended last May by the California racing commissioners to include additional conditions upon his early return from a previous suspension. "The judge said he would have a decision two to three weeks after that but with the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s already been over a month and I’m still waiting to find out."

And he’s getting antsy.

"As soon as I get the green light I’m ready to go," Valenzuela said. "I’ve been playing a lot of racquet ball and running. I can’t wait to get back."

Except for his peers, neither can a lot of other folks.

"If Valenzuela comes back he’ll be leading rider," predicted trainer David Bernstein. "The fans, the owners and the trainers all love the guy."

The homestretch

Corey Black, who represented Valenzuela before picking up Mike Smith when Valenzuela was given his current suspension, is looking for a rider.

"I told Pat that if he came back I was going to stick with Mike, so Pat committed to Ron Ebanks (former agent for Shane Sellers, Mark Guidry and Jorge Chavez, among others)," Black said. "It’s all contingent on Pat being given the OK to ride again, of course. I called Pat again after Mike decided to change agents but Pat wanted to stick with Ronnie and I respect that."

”¡ Desormeaux, a former member of the board of the directors of The Jockeys’ Guild, is relieved to be free from duties with the maligned organization. "I did my work," said Desormeaux, who turns 35 on Feb. 27. "I’m happy with the answers I got and now I’m glad I can focus and pay sole attention to becoming leading rider again. I’m kind of happy I’m no longer on the board because it took up a lot of my time."

Although it might have appeared otherwise, Desormeaux said he was not unceremoniously dumped from the board. "My term was up," he explained. "But as far as I’m concerned, every dollar spent that was in question has been accounted for, and it was paid to the (disabled) jockeys who were entitled to their money."

”¡ Declan’s Move locked up the male 2-year-old championship with a deceptively easy one-length win in the Hollywood Futurity, but Fusaichi Samurai remains the "now" Kentucky Derby prospect for Neil Drysdale. The Hall of Fame trainer could have another monster 2-year-old in Canteen, an unraced son of 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus. Hollywood clocker and morning linemaker Russ Hudak called Canteen’s recent five-furlong workout in :59 2/5 "super. He worked with two other horses, was in between them and got shuffled around a bit, but came on in the last eighth to pass them by a head."

”¡.Gary Young, professional gambler, clocker and horse trader, on whether Ghostzapper or Smarty Jones deserves to be Horse of the Year: "I don’t have any problem with either one being named. I think it’s ignorant for anyone to say it’s no contest (in favor of Ghostzapper). It will be a close vote." Told all the so-called numbers gurus have lobbied passionately for Ghostzapper, Young grinned and said: "Most sheet players I know are broke."