09/22/2006 11:00PM

No license? No problem!

Email

In the movie "Canadian Bacon," written and directed by Michael Moore, authority figures operating north of the border are depicted as exceedingly polite and accommodating to a fault, even in the face of an invading American commando team.

The security station at a major Canadian power plant near Niagara Falls is manned by an elderly couple who offer the commandos cookies before being tied to their lounge chairs. After defacing a hijacked truck with anti-Canadian graffiti, the Yanks are pulled over by a Mountie on a motorcycle, who merely requires them to spray-paint the offending slogans in French, as well. And in a Canadian jail, the guard treats thieves and killers with solicitous concern, saving his contempt for a corporate raider who puts people out of work.

Back in the real world, there is the story of how the Ontario Racing Commission, when presented with an unlicensed American jockey who had not competed for two months, granted him permission to ride in the most important Woodbine race of the summer that same day after a phone call to the rider's home state of California revealed that, technically, there were no official rulings against him.

Of course, it wasn't quite as simple as that. The reason Patrick Valenzuela showed up at Woodbine last weekend without a valid California jockey's license had to do with his failure to fulfill the obligations of a contract made with the California Horse Racing Board. The obligations seemed simple enough - pass a drug screening test on a hair pulled from a follicle and present physician's documentation of any treatments during a two-month absence - but the package was not yet complete. Hence, no riding privileges in California.

Canadian officials either chose to overlook these facts or never got the full story in the first place. It matters not, though, because Valenzuela was able to slide through to ride (and win) the Woodbine Mile on Becrux on the slippery issue of reciprocity.

A jockey with a cut-and-dried suspension based on a riding infraction or drug violation, specifically citing dates and days, is pretty much out of luck no matter where he wants to ride. However, the most recent Valenzuela case - with his CHRB "contract" now being subjected to interpretation - falls into a different category, one also occupied by the scandal-plagued British riding champion Kieren Fallon.

Fallon has been indicted on race fixing charges in England and is banned from competing in the United Kingdom. This, however, has not prevented him from riding in places such as Ireland, France, and Turkey.

When Fallon applied for a license to ride at Arlington Park in this summer's Arlington Million and Secretariat Stakes, he was denied by the Illinois Racing Board. Fallon went on to inquire about his status in Kentucky, anticipating likely engagements in the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs in November. The Kentucky Racing Authority was prepared to take up the issue at its regular meeting Monday, but Fallon withdrew his request, even though British officials were not necessarily pressing other jurisdictions to honor their ban.

Valenzuela may have just caught Canada on a good day. Certainly, he did not get the same kind of reaction when he wanted to ride Lava Man last November in the Japan Cup Dirt, at Tokyo Racecourse, even though he was licensed and regularly competing at the time.

According to a spokesman for the Japanese Ministry of Justice, Valenzuela was denied a working visa based upon drug-use issues raised in his record. The Japanese Racing Association lobbied for an exemption, but the Ministry of Justice hung tough, noting that the case would require a lengthy period of "research and investigation," with no assurances that the visa would be granted. Valenzuela withdrew his request, relinquishing the mount to Corey Nakatani, who has now ridden Lava Man to six straight victories in 2006.

At this point, the issue of Valenzuela's ability to win races is moot. In fact, it may be time to change the tune. Instead of wondering how many more races he could have won had he not suffered through so many career interruptions, the game should stand in amazement that he has been able to win any races at all - let alone nearly 4,000 - given the considerable weight of his admitted psychological baggage.

Now it has become a question of the time and energy spent by the California Horse Racing Board in maintaining its supervision of Valenzuela's peculiar case. In short, is he worth the trouble?

For many owners and trainers, the answer is yes. They want Valenzuela on their horses because they are convinced he moves them up, that he makes a difference, and that he wins them money.

At the same time, there are also a number of owners and trainers who have opted not to ride Valenzuela, even when he is available. They are concerned that Valenzuela's long history of drug violations, drug test evasions, and unexplained absences reflects poorly on the sport, and they choose to shop elsewhere for a rider to wear their silks.

As of Friday morning, Valenzuela still had not presented the CHRB with the requested documentation required before he could be named on horses. Entries are scheduled to be taken Sunday for the opening day program of the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita on Wednesday, and no one should be surprised if last-minute lawyering puts Pat back in the saddle.

But if there's a snag, he can always ride in Canada. Or Turkey.