09/09/2003 12:00AM

P-Val, Berrio tussle in Jocks' room


DEL MAR, Calif. - Jockeys Patrick Valenzuela and Omar Berrio both face possible disciplinary action from Del Mar's stewards following a fight in the jockeys' room after Monday's third race, in which a horse Valenzuela rode to victory was disqualified in a controversial decision.

According to eyewitnesses, Berrio and Valenzuela traded blows in a foyer of the jockeys' room, then continued to battle in the main part of the room. Jockeys Frank Alvarado, who is friendly with Berrio, and Max Corrales also became entangled, before all four were separated by track security guards and California Horse Racing Board personnel.

"It was three against one," said one top 10 rider, who witnessed the fight. "They beat up Patrick as a gang."

Valenzuela in the third race crossed the wire first with 4-5 favorite Grinding It Out. At the top of the stretch, while swooping to the lead, Grinding it Out drifted in, causing Berrio to check momentarily on Westward Star, who appeared to be tiring.

After reviewing films, the stewards disqualified Grinding It Out and placed him last, behind Westward Star, who eventually had faded to trail in the eight-horse field.

Valenzuela was furious. He hastily took the tack off of Grinding It Out, then picked up a phone near a scale by the winner's circle and called the stewards.

Moments later, when he got back to the jockeys' room, the fight began.

The stewards said they would meet with Alvarado, Berrio, Corrales, and Valenzuela on Wednesday morning, before the closing-day card at Del Mar. It is expected there will be fines and/or suspensions.

David Samuel, one of Del Mar's stewards, said Grinding It Out was disqualified in part because Berrio - while speaking with the stewards while the inquiry was in progress - said Valenzuela cut him off despite yelling a warning.

"Berrio was upset, and he never gets upset," Samuel said. "We considered what the riders said, which we always do."

"There's a safety factor," added George Slender, another of Del Mar's stewards.

Asked if Grinding It Out could have remained first, but Valenzuela subsequently suspended - since the horse who was fouled was fifth at the time of the incident and appeared to be tiring - Slender said there was precedent for that, but that in this incident, it was deemed that Westward Star was impeded severely. "It's hard to say where he would have finished," Slender said.