Updated on 12/14/2011 1:50PM

Hollywood Park: Some are skeptical P Val's retirement will last long

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Benoit & Associates
Patrick Valenzuela says he is finished riding, but some who know the jockey well feel he will make a comeback.

ARCADIA, Calif.- Hanging around Clocker’s Corner at Santa Anita over the weekend, jockey agent Tom Knust heard countless theories and predictions regarding jockey Patrick Valenzuela’s decision to retire from riding last Friday.

Put simply, there were not too many believers among the racing flock that Valenzuela would stay retired.

“The bet is who will come back first – Jenine Sahadi or Patrick,” Knust said.

Sahadi retired from training in September, and said in October that she would not rule out a comeback. Valenzuela, who was represented by Knust in the last 18 months, said on Friday that he was retiring because of a recent gall bladder surgery, concern over the condition of his knees, and the toll of reducing to make weight.

Valenzuela said his decision was final and that he would not attempt a comeback. The jockey won 4,333 races in a 33-year career.

Knust said he “does not think” that Valenzuela will return to riding, and that the rider hopes to do television commentary on races.

“I hope he can do something on TV or something to do with racing and be happy,” Knust said. “Talking to him now that he’s made that decision, he’s at ease. It’s like he’s taken a boulder off his shoulders.”

Valenzuela, 49, whose career was interrupted by numerous suspensions because of substance abuse problems, last rode on Nov. 13 at Hollywood Park. Valenzuela was scheduled to ride at Hollywood Park on Nov. 17, but did not appear. He later said he made an emergency trip to Kansas to visit his fiancee’s family.

While in Kansas, Valenzuela underwent a drug test and passed, according to Hollywood Park stewards. Valenzuela had the gall bladder operation while in Kansas.

Valenzuela is scheduled to undergo another drug test this week in advance of a scheduled hearing with Hollywood Park stewards Scott Chaney, Kim Sawyer, and Tom Ward on Saturday regarding a complaint filed against him for failing to ride on Nov. 17.

Valenzuela is taking the test even though he emphasized last Friday that he did not plan to ride again.

“I guess he wants to go out on a good note,” Ward said

Valenzuela said on Sunday that Saturday’s meeting with the stewards will give him a chance to “explain what happened and let them know I’m retired.”

The rider said that he, too, has heard stories about a potential comeback, but dismissed them. “I’ve had people ask me that,” he said. ‘As far as I’m concerned, my body is telling me it’s time to quit.”

There are some horsemen who think Valenzuela will ride again, and some who are convinced he will.

“I hope he does come back,” trainer Vladimir Cerin said. “He was one of the all-time great riders if he hadn’t missed so much time.”

Trainer Mike Mitchell does not believe that Valenzuela has ridden his final race.

“I think he’ll be back before Del Mar,” he said, mentioning the popular summer race meeting in San Diego.

“That’s just my take. I don’t know anything and I haven’t talked to anybody. I don’t think he’s retired. He’s a great rider and it’s the only thing he can do.”

Retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens conversed via texts with Valenzuela over the weekend. The exchanges focused on Valenzuela’s desire to do racing commentary on television, similar to positions that Stevens holds with HRTV and NBC.

Stevens, 48, who competed against Valenzuela in the 1980s and 1990s, does not expect to see the jockey ride again.

“He’s got a knee that’s as bad as mine or maybe worse than mine,” he said on Sunday while watching workouts at Santa Anita. “I’m not skeptical at all, and maybe I’m wrong.”

Stevens sympathized with Valenzuela’s weight issues, saying that he had to pull “six or seven pounds” at times at the end of his career.  

He recalled that racing against Valenzuela was always competitive.

“He made things happen in a race,” Stevens said. “We had our run-ins, but we’ve always been friends.”