Milo Valenzuela sat in a wheelchair on his final ride. This was at Santa Anita last June.
Too ill to travel to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York where induction into racing’s Hall of Fame traditionally takes place, Valenzuela was granted special dispensation to be enshrined at Santa Anita’s Turf Club on a bright Sunday afternoon before a gathering of family, fans and friends.
His mind, body and voice weakened by the ravages of hard living, Valenzuela’s spirit was briefly rekindled during the ceremony, enough to thank everyone for their thoughtfulness and caring. It was his last hurrah.
Ismael (Milo) Valenzuela, regular rider of the legendary gelding Kelso in the early 1960s, died Sept. 2 at his home in Arcadia, site of historic Santa Anita Park, where he had posted many of his 2,545 career victories. He was 74.
An oversized card signed by well-wishers was the centerpiece at the presentation. On it were photographs of Valenzuela’s signature victories, 22 of which came on Kelso, the magnificent dark bay son of Your Host, who established a record never to be broken: being named Horse of the Year five consecutive times, from 1960 through 1964. Kelso was the first big TV horse, albeit on a limited basis. As a kid in South Jersey, TV rabbit ears akimbo, I could pick up grainy and out of focus pictures of his races on WOR from New York.
Valenzuela, the third of 22 children, was a throwback. He rode in the thrilling days of yesteryear, an era when riders were riders and horses were horses. He competed through parts of four decades and won more than 130 major races, aboard stalwarts such as Tim Tam, Affectionately, Cicada, Native Diver, Round Table and Searching. In addition to winning the 1958 Kentucky Derby on Tim Tam, he was awarded first in the 1968 running when Forward Pass was moved up on the controversial medication disqualification of Dancer’s Image.
Born in McNary, Texas, on Christmas Eve in 1934, Valenzuela rode from 1951 through 1980. His mounts earned $20,122,760, a good year for a top jock by today’s standards.
Eddie Delahoussaye didn’t compete against Valenzuela often, but he has fond memories of him.
"By the time I started riding in Southern California, Milo was only riding one or two horses a day," recalled Delahoussaye, who turns 58 on Sept. 21. He has been a Hall of Fame member since 1993.
"I came to California in 1979, and he retired in 1980. He was a nice man. I wish I could have ridden against him more, and gotten to know him better. After he quit riding, I did get to know him and his family a little bit better. But the little time I spent with him in the jocks’ room, he was as nice as can be."
Delahoussaye, who retired on Jan. 13, 2003 and now earns his keep as a bloodstock agent, was aware of Valenzuela’s fame and achievements before he came west.
"I heard a lot about him when I was a kid, so when I did get to meet him and ride against him, that was an honor," Delahoussaye said. "I was probably around 13 or 14 and riding in the bushes in Louisiana when he was riding Kelso. I know he rode a lot of good horses, and they said he was a race rider, and I know he deserved to be in the Hall of Fame."
Valenzuela was much more than a Hall of Fame rider to Laffit Pincay Jr. "Milo was a great guy, a very classy guy, and he was always very friendly to me ever since I came to this country (in 1966)," said Pincay, who turns 63 on Dec. 29 and who has been in the Hall of Fame since 1975.
"Milo showed me around and he made himself very available to me for anything I needed. He would invite me to parties and I felt very comfortable with him. We became very close. We used to go hunting and fishing together; we did a lot of things together on weekends. He was a great rider, and might have been even greater, because he never really took care of himself, or his record would have been much better."
Trainer Ralph Beckett reports from across the pond that depending on how Muhannak performs at Wolverhampton, he could run in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon at Oak Tree, but Look Here, winner of the Group 1 Epsom Oaks last year, runs Friday at Newbury, after which she is likely for either the Arc d’Triomphe or Prix de L’Opera at Longchamp Oct. 4 . . . Sorry, Charlie (Manuel). After Brett Myers (three runs) and Ryan Madson (two) blew a four-run lead Saturday with only six outs to go against the woeful Mets, you can bring Brad Lidge back as the closer. He can’t be any worse. Championship teams just don’t lose games in that manner, especially to an injury-riddled team that is mailing it in. Madson had two outs, nobody on and was one strike away from a 9-8 victory, but gave up a single and a home run to lose, 10-9. The Phils would be perfect for the Little League, where teams only have to play only seven innings
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Ed Golden