The California Horse Racing Board has cleared the way for jockey Pat Valenzuela to regain his riding license when it voted to adopt the ruling of an administrative law judge that overruled a board of stewards' suspension of the rider. Valenzuela, 42, is now free to go through the normal licensing process, and in fact turned in his application last Wednesday. Ingrid Fermin, the new executive director of the CHRB, said, "It's premature to assume he (Valenzuela) will automatically be licensed. Stewards must look at his application, and he must talk to investigators. This won't happen overnight. If new conditions are drawn up for his licensing, the CHRB would want input, as would his lawyer, Neil Papiano."Valenzuela said he and Papiano will seek to restore the jockey's license as soon as possible. The license issue would be considered by the Santa Anita stewards.
"I always felt I'd get back, said Valenzuela, who hasn't ridden since July 1 at Hollywood Park. "I'm very grateful." The board requested that Fermin expedite the process as much as possible. In her previous position as a steward, Fermin was one of three officials who recommended last year that Valenzuela "not be considered for future licensing by the California Horse Racing Board in any capacity."Valenzuela has had a sometimes brilliant but often troubled career as a rider. He has been suspended numerous times for substance abuse and personal issues. Coming back from a previous suspension, he enjoyed a spectacular year in 2003, sweeping the riding title at each of the five major meetings in Southern California. However, in January 2004, Valenzuela was suspended by the board of stewards for violating the terms of his conditional license by failing to appear at Santa Anita for drug testing after he called in injured. That suspension was upheld by the board of stewards in March 2004, but his conditional license was restored by an administrative law judge in May, with additional terms and conditions added, including hair follicle drug testing. In July, Valenzuela was asked to submit to a hair follicle test. He had shaven his head and body, and a CHRB enforcement officer determined Valenzuela could not produce a hair sample. He was summarily suspended by the stewards July 2. In his November decision, administrative law judge H. Stewart Waxman ruled the CHRB had erred, and that hair follicles referred to the hair that starts beneath the skin surface. He said the CHRB had confused hair follicles with hair strands. He ruled Valenzuela thus had hair follicles to test, and that the CHRB failed to administer the test. Waxman wrote that "the Board of Stewards' decision to uphold (Valenzuela's) July 2 summary suspension for maintaining his hair at a length insufficient for hair strand or hair shaft testing is deemed arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion...(Valenzuela) did not fail to comply with the order to submit to a hair follicle test."
"We were never told that Patrick had to grow his hair a certain length," Papiano said. "The stewards tried to change the rules in the middle of the game."
Papiano said that twice in the past six months, he had samples of Valenzuela's hair follicles tested at independent laboratories.
"Both tests came back negative," Papiano said. Valenzuela captured the 1989 Kentucky Derby aboard Sunday Silence, and has won seven Breeders' Cup races. He is often a dominant rider on the Southern California circuit and a fan favorite.