Patrick Valenzuela rode in all eight races at Santa Anita last Wednesday, won half of them.
The previous racing day, he won four out of nine, giving him eight wins in two days. No wonder he’s the runaway leader at the meet and a virtual cinch to win his first Santa Anita riding title. He had 69 wins through the first 55 days. Maybe the track should be renamed Patrick Anita Park.
If the rider everyone in racing refers to as "P. Val" ever frequents an emotional pit, he doesn’t show it. He’s always upbeat, self-assured and keenly competitive.
"It’s P. Val’s world," said trainer Vladimir Cerin, for whom the jockey won two races that Wednesday. "We just participate in it."
That’s why riding in eight races on an eight-race card is kid’s play to Valenzuela, who wears his youthful demeanor for all to see, despite his 40 years and frequent comebacks from assorted suspensions and substance abuses.
"Heck, yeah," Valenzuela said. "I’d like to ride every race of the meet and I’m always confident and optimistic, whether I’m in a zone and winning races, or losing races."
Those positive vibrations have an effect on horsemen, who clamor for his services, and on horses, which respond to his urging.
"I think those emotions transmit from humans to animals and vice-versa," Valenzuela said, "because once you give a horse confidence, then it has confidence in you. The rider and the horse come together like a well-oiled machine."
Jockeys gain reputations that sometimes are over-rated. Eddie Delahoussaye, who retired on Jan. 13, was known for his swashbuckling, come-from-behind victories, often in photo finishes. But the Hall of Fame rider claims he was just as effective on the lead.
Valenzuela is recognized as one of the world’s premier gate riders, meaning he breaks a horse from the starting gate as well as any of his peers, if not better. But he takes pride in his overall horsemanship.
"Many races in California are won by speed (horses) and we have the best ones in the country," Valenzuela said. "Most of the horses I ride are on the lead or close to it, but I like riding horses from off the pace as well. It doesn’t matter; just give me a decent horse and I think I’ve got a helluva a shot in a race."
It sounds like Valenzuela would ride for the sheer joy of it.
"I love riding and I like to be in the race," he said. "If I’m not in the race, I don’t have a shot to win it. So if I’m here for the first and last race, I want to ride every race in between as well."
Patrick’s mother, Theresa, a deeply pious lady, was at Santa Anita when he won with four of his eight mounts. "I’m very proud of him," she said. "God is helping him, as well as his family.
"But it’s God first, before anything else."
HOMESTRETCH: Laffit Pincay Jr. is the idol of fellow Panamanian Alex Solis. Alex also is Pincay’s closest friend in the Southern California jockey colony, so it was with understandable emotion that Solis talked about Pincay’s career possibly being over, due to a serious neck injury suffered in the fifth race at Santa Anita on March 1.
"Jeanine (Pincay’s wife) called around 6:30, 7 o’clock Thursday morning, as I was getting ready to go work horses," Solis said. "But I cancelled that and went straight to the hospital (where Pincay was being fitted with a halo brace for two fractures in the same bone in his neck). You have to be sad, but most of all you have to thank God, because he easily could have been paralyzed. I’m very grateful he’s healthy and not in a wheelchair. I pray to God that whatever he decides will be for the best."
Should Pincay retire, he would join two other racing icons whose careers ended within the last year. Chris McCarron retired on his own terms last June and recently was named general manager of Santa Anita. Delahoussaye retired in January due to injuries suffered in a Del Mar spill last Aug. 30, and has embarked on a career as a bloodstock agent. Pincay, 56, is racing’s all-time leader with 9,530 wins. While his son, Laffit III, says a full recovery is expected, he added that "a decision on his career will be made at a future date." Pincay will be in his halo cast for eight weeks.
. . . The eerie rash of injuries to Hall of Fame riders at Santa Anita continued Saturday when Julie Krone fractured two small bones in her back after her mount, Sublet, fell leaving the gate in the sixth race. The 39-year-old rider, who has 3,595 victories, will be out for indeterminate period. The dark cloud hovered as Gary Stevens was dumped by Memogram in Sunday’s ninth race. The 40-year-old Hall of Famer was treated at the track’s first aid station and released.
. . . Delahoussaye and perennial Bay Area training champion Jerry Hollendorfer will be special guests at the Orleans in Las Vegas on Monday, March 24, at 9 a.m. Film highlights of Delahoussaye’s career will be shown and both will field questions and autograph pictures. Ralph Siracco will moderate
. . . Victor Espinoza was on a cell phone with trainer Bob Baffert immediately after the rider finished a distant fourth in a four-horse race aboard a $525,000 Saint Ballado colt named Continuum. Espinoza, ever the optimist, gave the trainer a positive spin on the colt’s performance. "He ran good," Victor said. "He ran fourth."