11/19/2011 12:45PM

Hollywood: Stewards set conditions for Valenzuela's return

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INGLEWOOD, Calif.– Jockey Patrick Valenzuela must pass a drug and alcohol test and meet with Hollywood Park stewards before he is allowed to be named to ride in coming weeks, the stewards said on Friday evening.

Valenzuela did not ride on Thursday and was taken off his mounts for the weekend, citing the need to travel to Kansas to be with his fiancee’s family, according to steward Tom Ward and the jockey’s agent, Tom Knust.

The jockey did not fully divulge the nature of the trip in a conversation with stewards on Friday, according to Ward. Valenzuela did not return two phone calls seeking comment.

It is possible that Valenzuela, 49, will not resume riding until early December.

Considering the jockey’s suspensions and absences for substance abuse problems in the past, Ward said that Valenzuela must show proof that he traveled to Kansas, pass a drug test and meet with him and fellow stewards Scott Chaney and Kim Sawyer before he can accept mounts. Since Hollywood Park draws entries three to four days in advance of races, the rider will need to return to California and meet those criteria several days before his intended return to racing.

“We’ve asked for documentation of his whereabouts,” Ward said. “We want to know where he is. He’s not going to be allowed to be named until he meets with us and he tests clean.”

Knust said Valenzuela had originally intended to travel to Kansas for the Thanksgiving holiday on Sunday night and return in time to ride at Hollywood Park for the Saturday, Nov. 26 card. As a result of the stewards’ decision on Friday, Valenzuela may not resume riding until Thursday, Dec. 1, assuming he returns to California and meets with stewards on Nov. 26-27.

Mr Gruff returns from layoff in sharp form

The 7-year-old gelding Mr Gruff won his first race in 19 months in the $67,650 Night Mover Stakes at Hollywood Park on Friday evening, his first start since a last-place finish in the $1 million Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai last March.

After Friday’s race, trainer Ron Ellis said Mr Gruff will be staying close to home in 2012, with the long-range hope that he can start in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita next November.

Ridden by Joel Rosario, Mr Gruff ($7) overcame a slow start to win the Night Mover by three-quarters of a length over Compari, a multiple stakes winner who was making his first start since May. Mr Gruff ran six furlongs on turf in 1:08.42.

Owned by Gary Broad, Mr Gruff has won six of 11 starts and $298,290. He won consecutive runnings of the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap at Santa Anita in 2009 and 2010 on the hillside turf course and will return to that surface for his next race – the $100,000 Daytona Handicap on Jan. 8.

Ellis remains puzzled by Mr Gruff’s poor performance in Dubai last March, the gelding’s only other start this year.

“For whatever reason, he didn’t like the track or the trip,” Ellis said on Saturday morning. “At least he showed up last night.”