He submitted to at least 192 urine tests in the last two years but the one test he didn't take might have ended Pat Valenzuela's riding career.
The three stewards at Santa Anita, curious when Valenzuela called in to say he couldn't ride because of a sprained ankle on Jan. 22, asked him to come in by the end of the day for a drug test.
Valenzuela's career, which began in 1978, has been interrupted eight times by drug-related suspensions, including four positive tests, and random testing was one of the agreed conditions when he was reinstated, after a 23-month absence, by the California Horse Racing Board late in 2001.
When Valenzuela didn't appear on Jan. 22, the stewards tried to reach him by phone a week ago. When the 41-year-old jockey didn't call back, he was suspended indefinitely.
The stewards, who will give Valenzuela one more hearing in a career heavy on hearings, haven't heard from him since he told them about the ankle injury, which reportedly occurred when he was leaving his house for the track.
"The ball's in Patrick's court," said a weary Tom Ward, one of the stewards who has been on the ground floor for several of Valenzuela's transgressions. If there is another hearing, Valenzuela will be hard-pressed to forestall what would be the equivalent of a lifetime ban. If there's another drug test, there'll be no substituting animal urine for his own, a ploy he once tried to fool investigators at Gulfstream Park in Florida.
"No matter what recovering addicts are recovering from -- drugs, alcohol, gambling, you name it -- it's a day-to-day proposition, and the demons are always out there," said Nick Cosato, who had been Valenzuela's agent for the last two hugely successful years.
No one rode more winners last year in Southern California than Valenzuela, who won all five major meets at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar. Valenzuela's wheels began to come off when he fired Cosato on Jan. 18.
There was a dispute about Cosato's booking mounts for Corey Nakatani as well as Valenzuela, which the racing board permits an agent to do.
While Valenzuela sat out the first 13 days of the current Santa Anita meet because of holdover suspensions for riding infractions, Cosato, who wanted to keep working, picked up Nakatani's business. Cosato hoped to keep Nakatani when Valenzuela returned. Although that might seem like serving two masters, the best agents are able to work with two top riders. Scotty McClellan did it for years with Chris McCarron and Alex Solis.
Even though Valenzuela was knocking off one riding title after another, running his victory total past 3,500, Cosato said he spotted some disturbing things that would prompt an agent to keep his second-rider insurance policy.
"Patrick reverted to the old Patrick," Cosato said on trainer Roger Stein's radio show. "He was more angry, more bitter."
Cosato told Stein that the first three or four months of Valenzuela's comeback, early in 2002, went well.
"But then he became a changed person," Cosato said. "[All] last year was tough. He was struggling at this time a year ago."
Asked Thursday if that meant Valenzuela had lapsed into drug use, Cosato said he was talking only about attitude.
Valenzuela reportedly has been in touch with his family but since the day of the alleged ankle injury, he hasn't talked to Cosato or returned calls from reporters. His onetime lawyer and one of his staunchest supporters, Donald Calabria, told the Daily Racing Form that he no longer represented Valenzuela.
"It's gut-wrenching to think what has happened," Cosato said. "It's a sad situation, but whatever happens, I wish Pat the best."
To get reinstated a couple of years ago, Valenzuela had to agree to a minimum of eight state-monitored drug tests a month.
Every day he went to work, he would present himself to a racing investigator, who would then determine whether a urine sample was necessary. A spokesman for the racing board said Thursday that Valenzuela had been "100% cooperative" in honoring that requirement. None of those tests -- at least 192 of them and probably more -- came back positive.
"It's a lot like somebody trying to hold 200 pounds over their head," Cosato said. "You can do it for five minutes, but not five hours."