Jockey Pat Valenzuela has always had success at Del Mar. He was Del Mar's leading rider in 1986 with 55 winners and entered this year's meeting 11th in stakes victories with 22.
But this year, Valenzuela, 27, seems to have taken his act to another level.
Valenzuela won four races on the last day at Hollywood Park to capture the jockey title. After three weeks here, he has dominated some of the best jockeys in the world. With 26 winners, Valenzuela leads his closest competitor, Eddie Delahoussaye, by nine, and Gary Stevens and Kent Desormeaux by 10. He also has won five of the meeting's 17 stakes. Gary Stevens is the next closest with three stakes.
Valenzuela's winning ways continued Monday with two victories in seven mounts. How does Valenzuela explain his success here? He gave much of the credit to his agent, Bob Meldahl.
"I've got a very good agent," Valenzuela said. "He's working his rear end off."
But Meldahl said that is exactly what Valenzuela has been doing.
"His dedication has been great," Meldahl said. "He wants to prove to everyone that he's one of the best riders here, and one of the best in the country.
"Pat's just a hell of a rider. He's made it a lot easier for me to get him good rides."
But there was a two-month stretch from late October to late December when Valenzuela wasn't getting any rides. He was suspended for 60 days after testing positive for cocaine.
Meldahl took Valenzuela's book immediately after the suspension.
"He rode a winner the first race back," Meldahl said. "He hasn't let any of that affect him. Unfortunately, he had some things happen to him. We're not all angels. I think that penalty made a big impression on him."
Valenzuela did not mention the suspension, which caused him to miss riding Sunday Silence in the Breeders Cup.
"I'm living my life one day at time," he said. "I'm more dedicated, more serious. I've put my faith in the good Lord."
Meldahl said a little luck hasn't hurt, either.
"We've had a very fortunate meet," he said. "The horses have been in some good spots to win."
Jockey Chris McCarron got on a horse Monday at Del Mar for the first time since he suffered broken legs and a broken arm in a June 3 spill at Hollywood Park. McCarron said he will work out for about three weeks before beginning to take mounts again.
Santa Tecla, a 4-year-old colt from Great Britain, won the featured eighth race and paid $10.20, $3.40 and $2.40.
Kanatiyr finished second and paid $2.80 and $2.20 and Saratogan, the favorite, paid $2.40.
Delahoussaye, who rode Kissogram Girl to victory, took the rest of the day off after becoming ill. Delahoussaye, second in the jockey standings with 17 winning rides, had been scheduled for three more mounts.
Trainer Neil Drysdale ended a 49-race Del Mar slump with Kissogram Girl's victory in the third race. Drysdale, winless in 11 Del Mar races this year, last won here in 1988.