Ordinarily, Fernando Valenzuela would have been a fixture at Fairplex Park.
Not this season.
A serious spill in the last race on Big ”˜Cap day at Santa Anita on March 3 resulted in a broken forearm that has sidelined the likeable jockey for more than six months.
The cousin of world-class rider Pat Valenzuela, Fernando has toiled diligently and without fanfare in relative obscurity at the lower echelon of a game he loves.
Not unlike his more famous cousin, but certainly for more socially acceptable reasons, Fernando is in the midst of his umpteenth comeback.
“I’m getting on horses this week, so I should be back in about three weeks,” Fernando said. “I’m a little heavy right now, so I’ve got to trim down.”
Valenzuela has a six-inch scar on the lower part of his left forearm. It’s so gruesome, Frankenstein’s monster would envy it. It is the culmination of his most recent spill.
“What happened was in March, I broke a bone in an injury I had before,” Valenzuela said. “I had a metal plate in the arm before the accident, and when I went down I broke the same arm. I had to wait until it healed. I had planned to have the plate from the first injury removed, so I did that, but then I had to give the latest injury enough time to let the holes fill in and heal properly.”
Six months with little or no income is trying on the budget, as well as one’s emotional state. Valenzuela took it in stride.
“You just have to wake up each day and make the best of it,” said the 33-year-old San Diego native. “You can’t sit there and cry about it. I’ve been through plenty of accidents before. This is not the first time. I’ve learned the best thing to do, is worry about healing properly first, then coming back to ride.”
Fernando and Patrick are not what one might call soul mates, but they do maintain contact.
“We’ve seen each other a couple times throughout the summer,” Fernando said. “But he’s been kind of doing his work and I’ve kind of been doing my own thing. With the passing away of his father, it’s been tough, but I’m just looking forward to starting up again soon.”
Patrick’s career has been marked by suspensions for various substance abuse violations, while Fernando’s has been relatively clean. P. Val’s latest comeback at age 39 is his best yet. Except for taking a day off for his father’s funeral, he hasn’t missed a beat.
“I’m not surprised (at how well he’s doing),” Fernando said. “He’s a very talented rider and he’s a very likeable guy. I’m very happy to see him back up on top and riding good horses. Hopefully, I’ll be back and riding good horses, too.”
THE HOMESTRETCH: Pat Valenzuela, riding at Fairplex Park for the first time in several years, returned from his first-ever Hawaiian vacation to pilot the maiden Manhattan Express to a 7 1/4-length romp in the Gateway to Glory Stakes. Valenzuela spent five days in Maui with his family. “The water there is so blue,” he said, “it looks like someone dropped in buckets of blue paint.” He has appealed a suspension for riding infractions and will be in action on opening day at Oak Tree on Wednesday . . . Eddie Delahoussaye will not make opening day, however, and his return to the saddle is on hold at least through this year following a spill at Del Mar on Aug. 30. The 51-year-old Hall of Fame jockey still is suffering neck and head pain and occasional dizziness. Retirement, as forecast in Gaming Today two months ago, would not be out of the question . . . The death last week of champion mare Flawlessly at age 14 brings to mind a comment about her from her trainer, the late Charlie Whittingham: “She’s so gentle,” he once told me, “you could take her home and put her in your parlor.” Flawlessly, a nine-time Grade I winner in the early 1990s, won 16 of 28 races and earned more than $2.5 million . . . One man’s early Breeders’ Cup picks: Classic, Came Home; Distaff, Farda Amiga; Turf, Golan; Mile, Beat Hollow; Filly & Mare Turf, Banks Hill; Juvenile, Vindication; Juvenile Fillies, Storm Flag Flying; and Sprint, Swept Overboard.