According to a report received Wednesday by the California Horse Racing Board, jockey Pat Valenzuela has tested positive for cocaine, and as a result faces possible disciplinary action when he meets with the racetrack board of stewards this morning at Santa Anita Park.
Depending on the stewards' action, Valenzuela is in jeopardy of losing the mount on Kentucky Derby winner Sunday Silence in the $3-million Breeders' Cup Classic at Gulfstream Park, Nov. 4.
Valenzuela, who turned 27 last week, has a history of drug dependency, but he has never tested positive at a California track. In the most recent national rankings, Valenzuela was seventh on the money list with earnings of $8.1 million by his mounts this season.
Valenzuela has not ridden at Santa Anita since Oct. 13, and had missed several previous programs during the current Oak Tree meeting. The rider had told the stewards he was suffering from the stomach flu.
However, after missing the program of Oct. 14--which included the mount on eventual Oak Tree Invitational winner Hawkster--Valenzuela was ruled ineligible to ride until he passed a series of drug tests. The positive test, taken by BLP Toxicology Laboratories of Tarzana, was collected last Friday.
Valenzuela could not be reached for comment.
Valenzuela received a vote of confidence last Friday from trainer Charlie Whittingham, who put the rider aboard Sunday Silence for an important exercise for their Breeders' Cup showdown against the East Coast star Easy Goer. The winner probably will be named horse of the year.
Whittingham expressed satisfaction with both the colt's one-mile workout and the apparent condition of his rider. "He's still on the horse for the Classic," Whittingham said of Valenzuela at the time. "But if something happens, there'll be no problem getting somebody to ride this horse."
Chris McCarron, winner of the 1988 Classic on Alysheba, had been prepared to fill in if Valenzuela were to be hit with a suspension, illness or injury, according to McCarron's agent, Scott McClellan.
But with the Breeders' Cup less than two weeks away, McClellan had to commit his rider to another mount or miss a shot at a piece of the $3-million purse. Earlier this week, McClellan said that he probably would end up aboard Meadowlands Cup winner Mi Selecto for trainer Gil Rowntree.
"We could only wait so long to make a move, or else we'd miss the race completely," McClellan said.
In March, 1988, Valenzuela was suspended indefinitely by the California stewards for repeated riding absences without adequate excuse.
He resurfaced later in New Mexico, where he tested positive for cocaine in an attempt to make a return. That test was later overturned on procedural grounds.
During the summer of 1988, Valenzuela made a successful comeback at Hawthorne Race Course near Chicago. He fractured his leg in a starting-gate accident, then returned to California, where he won the '88 Oak Tree riding championship, and picked up the mount on Sunday Silence.
He ended a tumultuous 1988 season by breaking his hand in a one-punch argument with jockey Gery Stevens, then suffered a fractured cheekbone in a spill during the first week of the 1988-89 Santa Anita meeting. Valenzuela proved resilient, however, and returned in time for Sunday Silence's 3-year-old debut in early March.
Together, Sunday Silence and Valenzuela won the San Felipe Handicap, Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes before losing to Easy Goer in the Belmont Stakes. It was on the Kentucky Derby victory stand that an emotional Valenzuela told a national television audience, "Kids, just say no to drugs."