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.HALL OF FAMER MCANALLY HAS PIGSKIN CONNECTION AT STUBHUB CENTER
Hall of Fame conditioner Ron McAnally, readily associated with the likes of John Henry, Bayokoa, Paseana, Candy Ride and many other luminaries of the American Turf, also has a more than passive interest in high school football, as in California Division II, State Final Football, this Saturday night at StubHub Center in Carson.
“My daughter, Laura, is married to Aron Gideon, who’s an assistant coach at Chaminade Prep School in West Hills,” said McAnally, who currently ranks as Santa Anita’s third all-time winningest trainer with 701 victories, behind only Bobby Frankel and Charlie Whittingham. “The team plays Enterprise High this Saturday at 4 p.m. and we’re really looking forward to going down there to support them.”
Gideon, who has coached previously at UCLA, St. Mary’s College and Cal State Northridge, played football at UCLA as a walk-on and graduated a Bruin in 1993. He currently serves as Chaminade’s (College Prep School) Special Teams Coordinator and Tight Ends Coach.
“My dad is really excited about this and he’s got my kids’ Godfather, Ross Porter, and his wife, coming down with all of us to the game,” said McAnally’s daughter, Laura. “We wish Ross was doing the play by play, but it’ll be so much fun having him with us. This is like getting ready to run in the Santa Anita Handicap!”
McAnally, 81, knows a thing or two about the Big ‘Cap, having won it in back-to-back years with John Henry in 1981 and ’82, and with Mr. Purple in 1996.
As he looked ahead Tuesday morning with a discerning eye to opening day Dec. 26 and beyond, McAnally simply stated, “All I need is the horse.”