Agent makes hay with Nakatani,
while P. Val rehabs

Aug 1, 2006 2:31 AM

When ailing Patrick Valenzuela resumes riding — it wouldn’t be until after Del Mar closes on Sept. 6 at the earliest —Tom Knust could hold the strongest hand of any agent in Southern California since Scotty McClellan represented both Chris McCarron and Alex Solis.

Knust would be booking mounts for both the resurrected Valenzuela and the resurgent Corey Nakatani, who recently gave Bob Meldahl his walking papers, citing "a lack of communication." Meldahl, one of the circuit’s top agents, had represented Nakatani successfully on and off for many years.

"Corey’s the one who initiated the split with Meldahl," Knust said, "but Bob’s a good agent and he’ll pick up somebody."

Valenzuela’s demand is a given, despite a history of drug-related suspensions that have interrupted his career 11 times, and occasional appearances on the AWOL list. The 43-year-old jockey has adamantly been a one rider, one agent man in the past, but P. Val has agreed to share Knust with Nakatani when Patrick returns, the agent said.

Currently, Valenzuela is contemplating procedures to mend three ailments: a pinched nerve in his neck area, a back problem, and a chronic knee that suffered a torn tendon in a gate mishap at Hollywood Park in May of 2005.

"Nakatani had talked to me before about taking his book, while also representing Patrick, but Patrick was hesitant about such an arrangement," said the 59-year-old Knust, an ex-Marine who earned a Purple Heart for taking a bullet in the head in Vietnam. "But when Patrick took off the first day of Del Mar (July 19), Corey approached me again.

"I talked with Patrick, and his gut feeling was he was going to have his shoulder operated on," Knust continued. "Doctors have wanted to do it for some time. Patrick knew he’d be out for a few months, so he agreed to let me represent Nakatani. Both of them agreed that when Patrick comes back, I’d have both their books. Now how long that would last, I have no idea."

With more than five weeks remaining at Del Mar and a three-week run after that at Fairplex Park, where Valenzuela annually takes a sabbatical anyway, it would give him two months to recover for the start of the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita on Sept. 27.

"His shoulder should take four to six weeks to mend," Knust said. "He’s needed to take care of his knee for a while, so this would be an opportune time for that as well. But because it hasn’t been looked at for a while, I’m not sure what doctors would have to do and how involved it might be. How long that would take is a question mark."

If Valenzuela gets a clean bill of health and makes it all the way back, how long his competitive pride remains on the back burner while Knust also calls shots for the 35-year-old Nakatani would seem tenuous at best.

"I think it could work out well for both of them," Knust said. "It’s just a matter of not having their egos getting involved. Of course, it would be a great situation for me, as long as it lasts. If it comes to where I have to choose one or the other, I’ll make the decision at that time. But I’m not even considering that right now."

Presently, Knust is enjoying the ride with Nakatani, who won two Grade I races at Del Mar on the weekend on July 22-23.

"Patrick understands my situation," Knust said. "He recognizes that I have to make a living and that’s why he gave me his blessing to take Corey. That’s the way it is in this business. When one door closes, another seems to open."

The homestretch

”¡ Knust said Valenzuela was undergoing therapy on his shoulder and a decision was due at press time on whether he would have surgery.

”¡ Dan Hendricks hopes to have Santa Anita Derby winner Brother Derek ready for the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.

"We won’t take any chances with him if things aren’t perfect," Hendricks said. "He liked Churchill. I think he ran one of the best races of his career there (dead-heat for fourth in the Derby). He might be ready to run in about a month, possibly in the El Cajon (one mile on Sept. 2). It’s a small race ($100,000, non-graded), but it’s a good race to come back in, then maybe go to the Goodwood (Oct. 7) against older horses, then to the Breeders’ Cup. You’d hope to win all three and be 3-year-old of the year, but that’s a far stretch."

”¡ Don’t rush off to bet Balance in Breeders’ Cup Distaff. The Santa Anita Oaks winner is recovering from ankle surgery and is due back with trainer David Hofmans at Santa Anita in about two weeks. Asked if she could still make the Breeders’ Cup, Hofmans said, "probably not."

Hofmans, a long-time critic of Del Mar’s main track, said it was "worse than ever" after seven horses were euthanized during the first two weeks of the meet, but sounded a note of optimism when management recently added tons of sand.

"I noticed it’s a little softer and the dirt clods are breaking up more," Hofmans said, "I think adding the sand has helped."

Added Hendricks: "Knock on wood, things have gone well for me. You hate to see what’s happened but sometimes these things occur and seem to get magnified. It’s not for lack of trying, because the last thing management, horsemen and track workers want to see are horses breaking down. It really shows we need Polytrack."

”¡ The July 28 Los Angeles Times listed a 2005 ESPN poll that asked fans their favorite sport. The NFL was No. 1 with 23.3 percent of the U.S. population, while Major League Soccer was 20th and last at 0.79. Horse racing didn’t make the cut, finishing behind figure skating, beach volleyball and the aforementioned soccer.

”¡ Apologies for a senior moment: Nashua beat Swaps in their match race, not the other way around.

”¡ Graphic on CNN: "Bush Goal Is Fast End to Mideast Conflict and Lasting Peace." Yeah, and my goal is to win every bet and live forever.