by Ron Mitchell and Jason Shandler
The license review committee of Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Sept. 30 unanimously granted jockey Pat Valenzuela a license to ride in the state. The license is contingent upon Valenzuela’s compliance with certain conditions that will include daily testing for drugs and alcohol when he is racing in Kentucky.
KHRC executive director Lisa Underwood said the committee’s action is binding and that Valenzuela could begin riding in Kentucky once he and the commission sign off on a consent agreement detailing terms under which he will ride. Those terms will include the format and regularity of drug and alcohol tests, plus his compliance with a counseling program that will be monitored by a backstretch program at Churchill Downs.
He could be riding in Kentucky when Keeneland’s fall meet begins Oct. 8, and at this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will be held Nov. 5-6 at Churchill Downs in Kentucky.
Valenzuela, 47, who has had numerous drug- and alcohol-related problems throughout a racing career in which he has won more than 4,000 races, was given permission to ride in California in July after being suspended "permanently" in September 2008. He rode at Del Mar much of the summer. During his suspension he continued to ride in Louisiana.
In his presentation to the six-member license review committee, Valenzuela explained that he had been sober since May 15, 2008. He said he has been attending 12-step recovery programs on a regular basis and that he had not had any positive drug or alcohol tests in Louisiana or California.
Although he was only tested for drugs and alcohol twice in California this summer ("I thought I would be tested every day," he said), Valenzuela said he would "have no problem" with the Kentucky mandate of daily testing.
Valenzuela explained that his family is part of his motivation for maintaining his sobriety. He said that during the period he was not licensed in California, where he resides, he had to ride in Louisiana. He said he wanted to return to California because that is where his two daughters and mother reside and he wanted to be close to them. The rider said he also wanted to remain free of alcohol or drugs so that he could have a successful riding career and provide for his family.
Questioned about his numerous suspensions, including those for aggressive riding and for fighting in the jockeys’ room, Valenzuela said some of his past conduct could be due to his use of alcohol and drugs. He added that he has had no riding or fighting infractions for three years.
"I thought the world was out to get me at the time," Valenzuela said of his state of mind during his period of addiction. "I am a much more patient man and much more mature man."
Although he attributed some of his past conduct to his widespread use of alcohol and drugs, Valenzuela emphasized that he never rode while under the influence. "I never came to the racetrack on drugs or drunk and I never will," he said.
Following the license review committee meeting, held in Louisville, Ky., Valenzuela returned to California where he rode on the opening day card of the Hollywood Park meet, winning the seventh race with Boychik.
Valenzuela, who according to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association has spent 82 months on the sidelines due to suspensions or license revocations, has won seven Breeders’ Cup races and the 1989 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) aboard Sunday Silence.