Kentucky Derby (gr. I)-winning jockey Patrick Valenzuela, 49, has retired from racing, his agent, Tom Knust, confirmed Dec. 9.
The California-based jockey, who hung up his riding tack following a career that spanned 33 years, told Daily Racing Form his retirement was mainly due to recent gall bladder surgery as well as his constant struggle to maintain the proper jockey weight.
“This operation has opened my eyes to the abuse my body has taken over the years,’’ Valenzuela told DRF. “I’m not young anymore. I think my health is more important than getting out there and making the weight every day.
“I have to reduce every day. It’s a constant battle. I would ride at 120 (pounds), but the struggle to do that has taken its toll.’’
Valenzuela scored his biggest career triumph when he piloted Sunday Silence to capture the 1989 Run for the Roses and the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). He also won seven Breeders’ Cup races, including the 1991 Juvenile (gr. I) aboard Arazi. His most recent grade I victory came with Acclamation in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August.
Despite his many career highlights, Valenzuela had substance abuse-related problems and was suspended several times during his career. Valenzuela was banned from riding in California after being arrested for drunk driving in 2007, which led to the termination of a conditional jockey’s license. Valenzuela rode in Louisiana and New Mexico for the next two years before regaining a conditional license in California in July 2010.
Valenzuela, who posted his 4,000th career victory Oct. 9, 2008 at Louisiana Downs, has won an impressive 15 titles over the years. In 2003, he swept all five of the titles at the three major Southern California tracks.
At Del Mar in 2003, Valenzuela participated in a match race called “Battle of the Sexes.” In a heated stretch drive, he and his mount, Chester’s Choice, nosed out Julie Krone, who was aboard Woke Up Dreamin.
Valenzuela, who rode his first winner Nov. 10, 1978 at Sunland Park in New Mexico, got off to a fast start as jockey. Making a good early impression as an apprentice, he initially rode for such conditioners as Charlie Whittingham and D. Wayne Lukas. At 17, became the youngest jockey to win the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). He had been a journeyman for one week when he won the race with Codex.
In the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), Valenzuela crossed the wire first with 75-1 shot Fran's Valentine, but was disqualified and placed 10th for interference.
Valenzuela, who won 113 races in 2011, has total purse earnings of nearly $163,893,554, leaving him 19th on the all-time list, according to Equibase.