04/19/2004 12:00AM

Opinions split on Valenzuela

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Patrick Valenzuela said Sunday that he intends to resume exercising horses on Wednesday at Hollywood Park, his first step toward a comeback that could lead to him riding by the weekend.

Valenzuela, who has not ridden since Jan. 19, received a stay from the California Horse Racing Board on Friday, allowing him to resuming riding while he appeals the termination of his conditional license by Santa Anita stewards on April 2.

Valenzuela had his conditional license voided for failing to submit to a mandatory drug test on Jan. 22.

Last Friday, CHRB chairman John Harris granted the stay. Had the board not granted the stay, Valenzuela was expected to go to Superior Court to ask for the right to resume riding.

Harris met with Valenzuela on April 13 and cited the jockey's recent treatment for depression as the main factor in granting the stay. During a hearing on March 28, Valenzuela argued before the stewards that he was fighting clinical depression.

Reached by phone on Sunday, Valenzuela said, "I'll be at Hollywood Park on Wednesday," but declined to elaborate further. He said he had told the CHRB that he would not discuss his situation publicly until then.

When Valenzuela returns, he will be subject to the same terms that were present in his conditional license, including reporting to the CHRB office each morning and taking a minimum of eight drug tests per month.

In addition, the board will require that Valenzuela undergo psychological counseling for depression.

Valenzuela, 41, led the standings at all five major meetings in Southern California last year. His career has had several interruptions because of substance abuse violations.

His apparent comeback has led to debate over whether the CHRB should have granted the stay or challenged Valenzuela in court.

"How many more one last chances is a person allowed?" jockey Danny Sorenson said. "He's been given opportunities to perform like a professional. No one has ever questioned his ability and that horses run for him, but we do question how is he allowed to keep coming back. He's got himself in trouble. Everybody deserves a second chance; when does that second chance run out?

"What the stewards have done has been completely negated by what the [CHRB] has done. If he's been given the conditional license and he violates the conditional license, what happens next that they won't do anything about?"

Sorenson, who had substance abuse problems in the early 1980's, points out that Valenzuela failed to comply with his conditional license when he didn't submit to drug testing.

"One of those conditions was to test at any requested time, but he violated that," Sorenson said. "The [CHRB] turns around and grants him a stay instead of going by the stewards' ruling."

Sorenson said Valenzuela could get a chilly reaction in the jockeys' room.

"I can't speak for everybody, but nobody is happy," he said.

Some trainers are supporting Valenzuela, including Vladimir Cerin, who frequently rode Valenzuela last year.

"I'm supporting him 100 percent," Cerin said. "Patrick had some personal problems and needed some time to take care of them. I don't think anyone can say he was on drugs or not unless they know from a personal experience. I think he's a great rider, a pretty good person. I like him, and I'm going to use him as soon as he comes back."

He's the Rage yet to fulfill potential

The first major program of the Hollywood Park meeting is Saturday's $1.31 million California Gold Rush program for statebreds.

Trainer Jim Cassidy is hoping the Gold Rush program is as productive as the California Cup was for him last fall when he won the Juvenile with He's the Rage and the Distance Handicap with Moscow Burning.

He's the Rage was expected to have a big 3-year-old campaign after he won the Juvenile as a maiden. Six months later, the colt is winless in two subsequent starts and the same expectations exist.

He's the Rage starts as a top contender in the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-olds; he will face familiar opponents.

He's the Rage finished second in his last start to the promising Cee Mister B, who returns to make his stakes debut in the Snow Chief.

When the two met in an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles on March 5, Cee Mister B won by three-quarters of a length.

"My horse was on the lead and got caught late," Cassidy said. "We got beat by a pretty nice colt. I think the distance will help me."

Cassidy is not discouraged by He's the Rage's two losses since the California Cup. In his first race back, the colt finished eighth in the California Breeders' Champion Stakes on Dec. 26, his only start before March 5.

"He got sick on me after the Cal Cup and then we got back to the track and he had a little recurrence," he said. "I had about 17 horses get sick on me."

The Snow Chief Stakes, run over 1 1/8 miles, will also include Cheiron, Don'tsellmeshort, and O.K. Mikie.

The program features five other stakes worth $150,000 to $200,000.

Yearly Report, the winner of the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Breeders' Cup Stakes in January, leads the Melair Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Moscow Burning starts in the $150,000 Fran's Valentine Stakes over 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Unfurl the Flag out with minor injury

Unfurl the Flag, second in the Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap on March 28, will not start in Saturday's Tiznow Stakes because of a bruised foot, trainer David Bernstein said.

Bernstein said precautionary X-rays were taken on Unfurl the Flag's left front foot, but that no major injuries were revealed.

"We've had problems all along," Bernstein said. "When we ran him in the stakes the other day, it jarred him pretty good. He's not 100 percent."

St Averil's Derby status uncertain

St Averil, sixth as the favorite in the Santa Anita Derby on April 3, remains a contender for the Kentucky Derby after working five furlongs in 59.20 seconds on Sunday.

Trainer Rafael Becerra cautioned that St Averil will have one more workout on Saturday before he and owner Stan Fulton decide whether to try the Kentucky Derby.

"I'm happy with the way he worked," Becerra said. "I want to watch him for a couple of days."

St Averil won the Santa Catalina Stakes in January and was second in the San Felipe Stakes in March.

Mullins's 4-year-olds click

Jeff Mullins, who led the trainers' standings for the first time at Santa Anita, had an excellent weekend with the stable's 4-year-old males.

Friday, Buddy Gil, the 2003 Santa Anita Derby winner, ended a four-race losing streak with a victory in a one-mile allowance race. Sunday, Choctaw Nation won his third consecutive race in an optional claimer. Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Choctaw Nation rallied from last, making up 12 lengths and finishing 1 1/2 lengths in front of Chester's Choice.

* House of Fortune, the winner of the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park on April 9 and a candidate for the Kentucky Oaks on April 30, worked a half-mile in 49.40 seconds on Sunday. Trainer Ron McAnally described the workout as a breeze.

* Leif Dickinson, the turf course superintendent at Santa Anita, was honored in a ceremony in the winner's circle on Sunday. Dickinson is leaving Santa Anita to accept a similar position at Del Mar.