Patrick Valenzuela Begins Long Ride Back

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who turns 39 Wednesday, had an informal meeting Sunday with three stewards at Santa Anita Park to begin the process of obtaining a license to exercise horses. Valenzuela, winner of the 1989 Kentucky Derby aboard Sunday Silence, has not ridden since February, 2000, when he was suspended for the latest in a series of drug violations. The rider applied to be relicensed one year later, but that request was rejected.

Valenzuela, who has also captured six Breeders' Cup contests, has been involved in a drug treatment program through the Winner's Foundation, a backstretch organization dedicated to helping racetrack workers fight addiction. His attorney, Don Calabria, is preparing documentation from the foundation to show the rider is in compliance with the stewards' request that he have six consecutive months of attending a substance abuse program. Calabria said Valenzuela was close to complying with that now, and that it will take two or three weeks before the stewards have all the necessary documentation.

"I'd like to see him exercising horses as soon as possible, say by the beginning of December, and then maybe reapply for his license in January or February if all is going well," Calabria said. "We think he's pretty much been in substantial compliance for a long time, outside of screwing up and having a few beers one day last June. Other than that he's been a model citizen, and he's gotten a glowing report from his employer, Bob Lewis' Foothill Beverage, so we're on the trail again."

Calabria added that Valenzuela has taken dozens of drug tests, "whenever they've wanted one, and we think he has it under control, but this is the kind of illness where you never know. He's in terrific shape and he's chomping at the bit to get out there again. It's what he loves to do, it's in his blood, and god gave him this gift. So many trainers have told me he moves their horses up. They don't know how or why, but when Patrick sits on a horse, the horse runs better."

Valenzuela has been set down numerous times in his career for drug violations. After returning from a two-year exile in 1999, he finished a close second to Laffit Pincay Jr. for the Hollywood Park fall riding title during the meet when Pincay broke Bill Shoemaker's career-wins mark.