For Patrick Valenzuela, this will be either a new frontier or the last roundup.
The 39-year-old jockey’s resume has more suspensions than the Golden Gate Bridge, and if he even blinks wrong when he returns at Santa Anita on Wednesday (Dec. 26), his days as a rider will be over, no ifs, ands or buts.
When Valenzuela was suspended by Santa Anita stewards on Feb. 11, 2000, for “engaging in the use of a dangerous drug””amphetamine,” his agent at the time, Nick Cosato, was disillusioned, disappointed and disheartened.
But time heals all wounds and the 36-year-old Cosato is again booking mounts for Valenzuela, whose career reached its pinnacle in 1989 with a Kentucky Derby triumph aboard Sunday Silence. Valenzuela’s dossier includes victories in six Breeders’ Cup races, but also has banishments for substance abuse, and police arrests. The California Horse Racing Board recently granted Valenzuela a conditional license to resume riding after an absence of almost two years.
“With his attitude, it’s kind of hard not to want to work with him,” said the unassuming Cosato. “Pat is a great guy. Everybody likes him, he’s very well-received. He’s just been dealing with a problem that many of us are fortunate not to have. But under the present guidelines, this is the last chance. It’s signed, sealed and done. An agreement, or contract, was drawn up by Don Calabria, Pat’s attorney. The CHRB reviewed it and OK’d it. And it’s very strict. Pat’s got to test a minimum of eight times a month at any time and he has to pay for the tests. He must attend at least two meetings a week at the Winners Foundation (an Arcadia-based assistance program for alcohol and drug abuse problems within the California horse racing industry).
“He cannot be in a place where alcohol is the primary consumption, i.e., a bar, a pool hall, places like that. When (CHRB supervising investigator) Mike Kilpack reviewed the agreement, he said, ”˜These are tough requirements.’ They would be tough on anybody, but that’s what Pat’s attorney drew up, that’s what was signed and that’s the way it’s going to be. Pat can’t even have alcohol in his home. If he has a bottle of wine in the house for Christmas and the CHRB comes there, it’s all over. It’s going to be rigid, but that’s what Pat and his attorney have agreed to.”
No one has ever questioned Valenzuela’s judgment or ability aboard a horse. But his decisions away from the track have caused head-shaking bewilderment.
In the 22 months since Valenzuela has been grounded, he has worked at the Foothill Beverage Company of thoroughbred owner Bob Lewis, a mover and shaker in the racing industry. He and his wife, Beverly, raced Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm and Charismatic.
“Pat’s been jogging and playing racquet ball to stay in shape,” Cosato said. “When he came back, I think the highest he got up to was 122 pounds. Right now, he weighs 118, 117, stripped, so he’s only got a couple pounds to lose before he makes his riding weight of 116 or 117. So far, I’ve got 20-some calls in the first condition book. I’ve got calls on opening day for (trainers) Dave Bernstein, Gordo (Jose) Silva and Jose Delima, and possibly one for Warren Stute. Pat’s been working horses every morning. I’m optimistic that he’s going to make it, but I’ve been there before.”
Bernstein is in Valenzuela’s corner.
“I hope the other trainers respond extremely well,” said Bernstein, who will be 62 on Jan. 6. “Patrick is one of the nicest men I’ve ever been around. He’s certainly an enthusiastic rider, always thinks he’s going to go right to the winners’ circle, and you have to like that, because you figure he’s going to try awfully hard for you.
“The owner of the horse he rides for me is a major Patrick Valenzuela fan. He was at Santa Anita the other day with his camera, he had pictures of Pat riding Sunday Silence and he was wearing a sweatshirt with Pat and Sunday Silence on it. He specifically asked if Pat was coming back, and if he was, he wanted him to ride his horse. The horse is Doctor Hixsyn and the owner’s name is Pete Hixsyn. He was hoping to get Pat on his horse, and sure enough, he did.
“I hope Pat does extremely well. Everybody certainly pulls for him. How the other guys will treat him I don’t know. But he’s fine with me.”
THE HOMESTRETCH: Bob Baffert, whose stable has earned more purse money this year than any other (nearly $16 million), says despite that achievement, Bobby Frankel is likely to win his second consecutive Eclipse Award. “(Joe) Orseno should have won it last year,” Baffert said, “and Frankel is a heavy favorite this year. It would be nice for me to get an Eclipse but it means more to win the money title, because the only people who can take the money from me are my lawyers.” . . .
Young horses to watch at Santa Anita include True Monarch, a son of Maria’s Mon trained by Baffert, and those conditioned by John Dolan and D. Wayne Lukas. True Monarch, owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, worked six furlongs recently in 1:12 flat and is nominated to the Santa Anita Derby. “We’ve got some nice young horses here,” said Lukas, but he wouldn’t get specific. “I’d like to let them earn their recognition.” Dolan was mum about his top prospects, as well, so just keep an eye on his first-time starters . . . Hopeful winner Came Home, sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, is pointing to the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 2, trainer Paco Gonzalez says. Came Home recently worked five furlongs in 1:02.20. Earl of Danby, impressive maiden winner in his debut, will make his next start in the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes on Dec. 28. “We’d have to run in open company if we don’t go in the stake, because they hardly ever write a race for Cal-bred other-than,” Gonzalez said. Turf stakes winner Bienamado, back at the track five weeks after spending time on the farm recovering from a splint injury, will have his first breeze on the grass soon, after which Gonzalez will set a race for his return . . .
Apprentice rider Elvis Trujillo, who won his U. S. debut on Nov. 28 aboard Briteonzmyday, will make his Santa Anita bow shortly. It was delayed when he was kicked in the kidney by a horse at the Gonzalez barn. “He was lucky he had his flak jacket on,” said agent Bill Barisoff. “X-rays were negative, but he was sore. Just tell everyone Elvis is in the building.”