Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pat Valenzuela column

Valenzuela still has hopes for big future
By Felix Chavez
El Paso Times
SUNLAND PARK — At 47, jockey Pat Valenzuela still looks fit and ready to ride even after multiple knee surgeries and other injuries in his long and glorious career.
In 1978, Valenzuela rode his first winner at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino and the rest was history. He went on to win many graded stakes races, including Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup races.
Valenzuela has had his battles with substance abuse problems and is currently not allowed to ride in California, where he’d like to return once again to compete.
So instead of California, Valenzuela has taken refuge in Louisiana, and at least for a few days, here in New Mexico at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino. He had a decent meet at the recently completed Fairgrounds meet in New Orleans, winning 30 races on just 199 mounts, far less mounts than other riders. Valenzuela also rode 32 horses to second-place showings and 25 to third-place finishes.
Since his arrival here in Southern New Mexico last week, he’s ridden a handful of winners including a talented 2-year-old named Shamrock Girl and been on the board a few other times. Valenzuela, who I met with early Saturday morning after a workout on a local horse for trainer Ben Torres, appears content in life and ready to ride like the professional he is.
Valenzuela is a terrific rider and perhaps most importantly he’s fearless and competitive, which might be the most important traits a successful jockey needs.
Confidence is synonymous with Valenzuela’s riding exploits. He carries himself well on the track, he looks prepared every time he is in a race and his horse at least has a fighting chance to hit the board.
It’s often a delicate balance for jockeys to stay both healthy and successful. Valenzuela is still competitive out there on the track and he still harbors dreams of winning a Kentucky Derby and returning to California to race full-time.
Valenzuela comes from a distinguished background of riding. He learned the sport from the likes of his father A.C. and uncle Milo. There is no denying that Valenzuela is one of horse racing’s top athletes in the sport referred to as the Sport of Kings and if given another chance to ride big time horses, he may still have another Triple Crown win left in him.
Valenzuela, who is engaging and well spoken off the track, is certainly worth the trip to the track even to watch for one race because he goes all out and he’s an elite athlete. He’s comparable to going to an NBA, NFL or MLB contest and watching the top athletes in those sports compete.
For now, Valenzuela has to stay busy in Louisiana and New Mexico and he seems ready to do that and do it well. He will ride some at Sunland Park until the meet ends April 20 and there is a chance he could ride at some point in Farmington, N.M.
Valenzuela said if he can stay healthy, he’d like to ride 10 more years.
For all that he’s accomplished, don’t be surprised to see him do just that and still fare well at a high level.

Felix Chavez can be reached at fchavez@elpasotimes.com; (915) 546-6374