02/02/2007 1:00AM

Low-profile Valenzuela lacks license


ARCADIA, Calif. - Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who has not ridden since late November because of rib injuries and subsequent knee surgery, has not renewed his provisional license with the California Horse Racing Board and has not been in contact with his agent in more than a week.

Valenzuela, who has a history of substance abuse problems that have plagued his career, has ridden under a provisional license in recent years. The one-year license required that Valenzuela undergo occasional drug testing at the racing board's request.

"He is not licensed and has not applied for a license," said Mike Marten, a racing board spokesman, on Thursday. Marten said that license application information was recently sent to Valenzuela and his attorney, Neil Papiano. Marten said the racing board had received no response.

Two calls placed to Valenzuela and to Papiano's Los Angeles office

earlier this week were not returned.

Valenzuela's agent, Jim Pegram, said earlier this week that he hadn't been in contact with the jockey "in a week."

Valenzuela was most recently drug-tested on Dec. 28 and passed, according to Marten. The provisional license has since expired, which has prevented the racing board from testing Valenzuela since he is no longer subject to the regulatory agency's rules, Marten said.

In early January, Pegram said the jockey was preparing to return to riding from a rib injury suffered in a paddock accident at Hollywood Park on Nov. 26 and arthroscopic knee surgery in December.

Pegram had said that Valenzuela, 44, was expected to return to race riding in early February.

This is the second time in the last year that Valenzuela has been off for an extended period of time. Last summer, he missed two months, including the Del Mar meeting, after being hospitalized for part of that time for undisclosed reasons. Valenzuela spent time in a Pasadena hospital that specializes in treatment for substance abuse and mental health problems.

Valenzuela was allowed to resume riding at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting last fall after providing the state racing board with information surrounding his hospitalization.

Business numbers mixed

Santa Anita has shown gains in average ontrack attendance and average all-sources handle, but a drop in average ontrack handle through Jan. 28, the 25th day of the 85-day meeting.

According to figures released to the public on a daily basis, the average ontrack attendance was 9,745, a gain of 3 percent over the 2005-06 meeting. While ontrack average handle had fallen by 2 percent, to $2,259,409, all-sources handle showed a 5 percent increase, to $11,087,949.

The increase in all-sources handle can be attributed to a lack of rainy weather during the first five weeks of the meeting, 11 racing days that featured a pick six carryover and large fields.

On Jan. 27, the track drew a meet-high crowd of 36,355 for the Sunshine Millions program, a record audience for the five-year history of the event. The all-sources handle that day of $20,350,902 was a record for Sunshine Millions Day and the highest of the meeting.

The increase in all-sources handle has led to preliminary discussions about a potential purse increase, a subject that will be discussed by track officials in coming days, said the track's president, Ron Charles.

"We'll know more after this weekend," Charles said.

The current meeting has been similar to last year's meeting in that the January portion of both seasons was relatively dry during a month when rain can plague racing in Southern California.

"The numbers we put up last year have been tough to compete against," Charles said.

He said the drop in ontrack handle was not a complete surprise since business has been affected by the absence of racing in northern California on Wednesdays, when Golden Gate Fields has been dark.

"We've taken a pretty big hit ontrack," Charles said.

Mission accomplished with Solva

Solva, who was sent to California last year by her owner-breeders Kevin and Sue Mercer, won her U.S. debut in Thursday's $77,300 La Zanzara Handicap.

Trained by Ben Cecil, Solva rallied from last in a field of seven to win the La Zanzara by a head over Lasika. Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Solva ($11.20) ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.38.

"Victor sat patiently and let her creep up from the half-mile pole," Cecil said. "She's shown some ability, but you never know until you run them."

The victory has led Cecil to point Solva to the $200,000 Santa Barbara Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on turf here on April 21, the closing weekend of the meeting.

Solva has won 3 of 13 starts and $92,865. In England, she won two minor races but was unplaced in two listed stakes last year. She was bred by the Mercers at their Usk Valley Stud in Wales.

Balance works for Santa Maria

Balance, the winner of two Grade 1 stakes for 3-year-old fillies here last winter, worked seven furlongs in 1:25 at Hollywood Park on Friday, the second-fastest of 10 recorded works at the distance.

Trainer David Hofmans said Balance will start next weekend in the $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on Saturday or the $200,000 La Canada Stakes against

4-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on Sunday.

"I like the mile and a sixteenth a little better than a mile and an eighth," Hofmans said.

Balance missed the second half of 2006 because of injury but returned to finish third in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes at seven furlongs here on Dec. 29.

Sinister Minister scratched

Sinister Minister, winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes in 2006, was scratched from an optional claiming race on Friday because of a temperature, trainer Bob Baffert said.

Sinister Minister, 4, was a heavy favorite in the 1 1/16-mile race. It would have been his first start since finishing fourth as the 9-10 favorite in the Windy Sands Handicap at Del Mar last September.