Great, Controversial Jockey Patrick Valenzuela Has Retired

By on Dec 10, 2011

Category: Horse Racing

By Steve Davidowitz. . . . JockeyPatrick Valenzuela formally decided on Friday to end his career as one of he best, most controversial jockeys in racing history.

Valenzuela, 49 and winner of 4,333 career races, came to the conclusion this week that he no longer could battle to maintain his body weight at 117-120 pounds required for his profession.

“The (gall bladder) operation I had last month opened my eyes to the abuse my body has taken over the years,” he told Daily Racing Form on Fridays.

“I’m almost 50 and my health is more important now. . . .Maybe I could ride at 120, but  even that would be a constant battle to make weight every day. The struggle for the past several years has taken its toll.”

Valenzuela also said that a recurring knee problem was contributing to his decision. “I can’t get on horses in the morning without it flaring up,” he explained. “I think it’s time to turn the page”

Thus ends a roller coaster 33 year riding career that included  seven Breeders’ Cup victories, 15 separate riding titles at southern California tracks, a trip to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle aboard the Charlie Whittingham trained SUNDAY SILENCE in 1989 and numerous forced trips to drug rehab centers while serving extended suspensions that nearly ended his career.

For more than two decades, drug abuse and drug related suspensions were a part of Pat Valenzuela’s racetrack life and there were times when he was told by California authorities he never would be licensed to ride again.

Yet  ‘PVal’ as he was known around the track, was given reprieve after reprieve and showed his old form on many occasions after getting back his license to ride.

For one thing there were many trainers who wanted him back in the saddle. Aming those who admired his skill was the late great Charlie Whittingham, a fine judge of jockey talent given his long term relationships with Hall of Famers Bill Shoemaker and Chris McCarron.  . .”Patrick is the most naturally gifted jockey I’ve ever seen, “Whittingham once told me.

From 2008 through most of 2010 while still serving a California induced suspension, PVal obtained a license to ride in Louisiana and was so good and so faithful to his need to stay off drugs that he worked his way back in to the southern Cal jockey community.

“He looked as good as ever when he came back to ride here,” his agent Tom Knust said.  “Without his weight problems he still could be out-riding most of the jockeys here, or anywhere else.” Fact is Valenzuela’s front running ride aboard ACCLAMATION to win the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar this summer may have been one of the best of his career.

But after skipping out on riding assignments at Hollywood Park on Nov. 17,  some began to wonder if he had fallen into old traps.

A few days later, however,  PVal was found visiting his fiancée’s family in Kansas, who were enduring personal grief issues. .  While in Kansas, PVal passed a drug test to the satisfaction of the Hollywood stewards and had his gall bladder operation.

According to Knust, Valenzuela was intending to resume riding on opening day at Santa Anita Park Dec. 26, but the decision to retire was no real surprise. “Now, he can get on with his life,” Knust  said.

According to Equibase, Valenzuela mounts earned more than $163.8 million, including $5.8 million this year. That said, there will be much debate among voting members whether his accomplishments and his skills will outweigh his troubles and suspensions when his name comes up for voting for Racing’s Hall of Fame.

My vote is sealed. PVal was and is a Hall of Fame jockey—especially after his hard fought recovery seemed to stick through the final four years of his career. Get all your online horse racing odds in the Bodog Racebook today.

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