Jockey Patrick Valenzuela

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela

Benoit Photo

Valenzuela Expects Healthy Santa Anita Meet

The 51-year-old jockey ready to resume riding after 2 1/2-month illness absence.

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela resumes riding at Santa Anita Park when it opens on Dec. 26 after taking some time off due to an illness.

A fixture in Southern California since he began his career in 1978, the 51-year-old rider has overcome numerous injuries and substance abuse issues, but has never lost his zeal for the game.

His ability on horseback has never been questioned.

"I've been out here working every morning, just getting ready for the big meet," said Valenzuela. "I've got some good calls and hopefully we'll get lucky and get a couple winners right away and get rolling."

Agent Tom Knust represents Valenzuela.

Valenzuela, the youngest jockey ever to win a Santa Anita Derby at 17 aboard Codex for D. Wayne Lukas in 1980, has not ridden competitively since Oct. 11. He was winless in 12 rides at Santa Anita's autumn meet.

"I got sick during the fall meet here and I lost a lot of weight," said Valenzuela, whose most memorable victory came aboard 1989 Horse of the Year Sunday Silence in that year's Kentucky Derby. "My immune system was down and I got a pretty bad sinus infection.

"I went to the doctor and had to take a couple days off. It came at the wrong time, but I decided to give it more time and get healthy the right way.

"My weight's good. I'll probably be doing 18 (tacking 118 pounds) opening day and hopefully continue doing that for the rest of my career."

Among Valenzuela's 13 riding titles is the 2002-03 crown at Santa Anita, where he won 94 races.

Although he's won only four races this year according to Equibase statistics, Valenzuela has 4,346 career wins, with purse earnings of $165,266,242.