Pat Valenzuela was handed one of the most severe penalties in his troubled career Saturday when stewards here suspended the 32-year-old jockey for the rest of the meeting, which ends Sept. 13.
The ruling from stewards Dennis Nevin, David Samuel and George Slender means that Valenzuela won’t ride during the 43 days of Del Mar, where in happier times he was one of the track’s leading jockeys. Valenzuela has won three riding titles at Del Mar, the last in 1991, and his 518 victories here rank him sixth in the track’s standings.
Valenzuela called in sick on opening day, July 26, and was suspended indefinitely the next day after he failed to appear before the stewards. The case bounced around, from the California Horse Racing Board back to the stewards, and several days of hearings involving Valenzuela and his agent, Harry Hacek, ended Friday.
Valenzuela, whose mounts have earned about $90 million, has a history of not showing up to ride, frequently on big-race days, and on July 23 he told stewards at Arlington International that an airline mix-up out of Los Angeles prevented him from getting to the suburban Chicago track to ride in the $300,000 American Derby. Valenzuela’s scheduled mount, Gold And Steel, won the race under Aaron Gryder.
A dozen rulings against Valenzuela began with a $100 fine in 1983 and continued with a 60-day suspension after he tested positive for cocaine at Santa Anita in 1989. That suspension cost him the winning mount in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Sunday Silence, whom Valenzuela had ridden to victory in the Kentucky Derby. In 1990, Valenzuela was suspended for six months for “failing to honor the terms and conditions of probation” from the year before. Valenzuela once tested positive for cocaine in New Mexico, but his license was reinstated after it was determined that the test has been improperly given.
Several agents have dropped Valenzuela, and Hacek has been booking his mounts for less than a month. Reacting to Saturday’s suspension, Hacek said that he would recommend that they seek relief through the courts.
“There’s the matter of earning a livelihood, and perhaps defamation of character,” Hacek said. “I’m disappointed. The punishment outweighs the crime. I thought they might fine him or put him on probation.”
Hacek said that Valenzuela didn’t ride on July 26 because of a muscle spasm in his back. He said that the stewards have been given documentation of the condition from a doctor.
It is likely that Valenzuela would have to appeal the suspension to the racing board before he files a civil lawsuit. He has until Tuesday to appeal, and Saturday the Del Mar stewards declined comment on their ruling, saying they didn’t want to interfere with the appeal process.
When trainer Bobby Frankel is asked to name the best fillies he has trained, he lists Delicate Vine, Toussaud and Possibly Perfect.
Delicate Vine and Toussaud have been retired, but Possibly Perfect continues to win for Frankel. One of the 5-year-old mare’s most hard-earned victories came Saturday, when she gave away weight, sat behind a slow pace, survived traffic problems and overcame a swarm of horses near the wire to win by 1 1/4 lengths in the $315,600 Ramona Handicap.
In mid-stretch, Yearly Tour, able to set slow fractions all the way around, was threatening to hold on. Possibly Perfect, who had been second all the way, was in high gear, but there were other threats--Lady Affirmed on the inside and Morgana on the far outside.
Ridden by Corey Nakatani, Possibly Perfect cleared Yearly Tour with a few strides left, and Morgana, who finished second, ran out of ground. Morgana beat Yearly Tour by a head, and Lady Affirmed, trying to give trainer Charlie Whittingham his fifth consecutive victory in the Ramona, finished fourth, a head behind Yearly Tour.
“She had lots of traffic trouble,” Nakatani said. “And she had to overcome a slow pace. But she did it and she did it in style.”
Possibly Perfect, going over the $1-million mark in earnings, collected $180,600 for her 10th victory in 17 starts. She has also finished second twice and had four thirds. On grass, she has won 10 of 14.
“She’s special,” said Frankel, who’ll be installed in the Racing Hall of Fame at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Monday. “If she does get beat, she has an excuse. She got stopped three times, once going into the turn, and she had to take up sharp on the backside and then again coming home.”
For the Ramona, a 1 1/8-mile grass race, Possibly Perfect carried 123 pounds, giving her six opponents an advantage of between five and 15 pounds. Timed in 1:49 4/5, Possibly Perfect was favored for the sixth race in a row and paid $4.40 to win.
Horse Racing Notes
Bobby Frankel has won the Eddie Read Handicap six times, but his hopeful in today’s $300,000 running, Eagle Eyed, is 15-1 on the morning line. The 2-1 favorite, Fastness, missed by a neck against Approach The Bench in last year’s Read. Richard Cross, who trained Approach The Bench, will try to win today with Earl Of Barking, who is 4-1. Earl Of Barking, who won the Hollywood Turf Handicap in May, finished fifth in last year’s Read. . . . Saturday’s handle of $13.7 million was the second-highest in Del Mar history. . . . Unaccounted For, winning a stake for the first time since last year’s Jim Dandy at Saratoga, won Saturday’s $350,000 Whitney Handicap, beating L’Carriere by 1 3/4 lengths.