Except for designated races during the first eight days this meet, Patrick Valenzuela won't ride regularly until the 14th day of the 84-day Santa Anita meeting. That gives his rivals an advantage in their quest for the riding title, which Valenzuela won last season with 94 victories. He went on to capture championships at the five major Southern California meets, the first to accomplish the feat in the same calendar year since Chris McCarron in 1983.
Valenzuela's absence is likely to present opportunities for the competition, according to Richie Silverstein, agent for Martin Pedroza and Iggy Puglisi."It's a new game and anything that happened before Christmas day you can wash away," Silverstein said. "Corey Nakatani starts the meet with P. Val's agent (Nick Cosato) so he might be able to cover Patrick on some of his horses. Gary (Stevens) has been semi-retired for six or seven years so he'll pick his spots. Julie (Krone) and Ryan (Fogelsonger) are temporarily out (with injuries), so you should look for the old standards bearers like Alex Solis, Victor Espinoza and Mike Smith, who was red hot the last six days at Hollywood Park."Like I said, from the day after Christmas until about Feb. 14, the competition is going to be unbelievable. Guys will be riding as many as they can, working hard, trying to get a new lease on life. Kent Desormeaux, Nakatani and Martin are making strong comebacks. Emile Ramsammy is back. But Patrick will only be gone 13 days and then he'll fall back into his niche. Julie will be back, too. "I'd say around Valentine's Day it will be business as usual, but if anybody's going to benefit right now I'd look for Nakatani, maybe Smith, and Solis, who's always a force to be reckoned with, especially at Santa Anita where he rides for trainers who gear for this meet."