Horse racing, Santa Anita

PVal ready to ride Santa Anita’s opening day

From Ed Golden’s Santa Anita notes on Wednesday:

P. Val’s back and Santa Anita has him.

The 51-year-old jockey–full handle, Patrick Valenzuela–resumes riding at The Great Race Place when it opens on Dec. 26. A fixture in Southern California since he began his career in 1978, Valenzuela has made more comebacks than Brett Favre, overcoming numerous injuries and substance abuse issues, but has never lost his zeal for the game.

His ability on horseback has never been questioned.

“I’ve been out here working every morning, just getting ready for the Big Meet,” said Valenzuela, exhibiting the same unbridled enthusiasm that has become his signature trait.

“I’ve got some good calls and hopefully we’ll get lucky and get a couple winners right away and get rolling.” Agent Tom Knust represents Valenzuela.

Valenzuela, the youngest jockey ever to win a Santa Anita Derby at 17 aboard Codex for D. Wayne Lukas in 1980, has not ridden competitively since Oct. 11. He was winless in 12 rides at Santa Anita’s Autumn meet.

“I got sick during the fall meet here and I lost a lot of weight,” said Valenzuela, whose most memorable victory came aboard 1989 Horse of the Year Sunday Silence in that year’s Kentucky Derby. “My immune system was down and I got a pretty bad sinus infection.

“I went to the doctor and had to take a couple days off. It came at the wrong time, but I decided to give it more time and get healthy the right way.

“My weight’s good. I’ll probably be doing 18 (tacking 118 pounds) opening day and hopefully continue doing that for the rest of my career.”

Among Valenzuela’s 13 riding titles is the 2002-03 crown at Santa Anita, where he won 94 races, outdistancing runner-up David Flores, who won 69.

Although he’s won only four races this year according to Equibase statistics, Valenzuela has 4,346 career wins, with purse earnings of $165,266,242.

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Other jockey news from Golden’s notes:

+ Trainer Jeff Mullins is a staunch proponent of Tyler Baze. The 31-year-old rider is nearing his return from a lengthy suspension for violation of alcohol abuse. “It’s like he never left,” Mullins said, addressing Baze’s skill in the saddle. “I think he’s getting plenty of support. He’s working nine or 10 head a day. He’s working horses on the training track and everything . . . I think he’s got a pretty strong fan base.” Baze has been cleared to resume riding on Jan. 1, and will be represented by agent Craig O’Bryan.

+ Agent Dudley Osborne hopes to make an impact this meet representing jockeys Orlando Mojica and Julien Couton, the latter a 31-year-old Frenchman who has been riding for 10 years, and in the U.S. since 2007, first for trainer Patrick Biancone and more recently for Leonard Powell, both fellow Frenchman. “It’s a tough circuit and you have to take advantage of all opportunities,” Osborne said. “Julien has the ability. It’s a matter of getting the chance, but we’re getting there.” Mojica also is taking an optimistic approach. “You have to ride the right horses for the right people,” said the personable 31-year-old from Puerto Rico. “I’ve been riding for 14 years and enjoyed success in Kentucky and at Indiana Downs before coming to Southern California. I’m working hard and doing the best I can.”

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