01/07/2005 12:00AM

P. Val can apply for license

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The California Horse Racing Board has cleared the way for Patrick Valenzuela to return to competition, ruling on Friday that he will be allowed to apply for a jockey's license. Valenzuela has not ridden since July after being suspended for failing to take a hair follicle test, part of a drug screening process.

It is not clear when Valenzuela will be able to ride because of the licensing process, which could take a week or longer. Valenzuela, 42, is hopeful of riding as soon as possible.

"I'm ready," he said in a telephone interview. "I'm so ready."

He was expected to apply for a license as soon as this weekend, according to his attorney, Neil Papiano.

The board decided in favor of Valenzuela, who had appealed his suspension, after a decision by administrative law judge H. Stuart Waxman that the board made public Thursday night. Waxman, ruling in November, found that the Del Mar stewards were in error when they suspended Valenzuela in August for failing to submit to a hair follicle test at Hollywood Park in July.

Meeting via teleconference on Friday, the board voted to adopt the Waxman decision, which said that Valenzuela was not aware how long his hair needed to be for follicle testing, that the board did not properly inform Valenzuela of the testing procedures, and that Valenzuela was not at fault for failing to comply.

Valenzuela, who has a history of substance abuse problems, was ordered by the board to undergo hair follicle testing as a condition of his reinstatement for missing a mandatory drug test in January 2004. Hair follicle testing is considered more thorough than blood or urine testing in detecting substance abuse over a period of time.

According to Ingrid Fermin, the board's new executive director, Valenzuela will likely be issued a conditional license. In recent years, Valenzuela has held a conditional license that required him to undergo periodic drug testing and to attend counseling. In addition, a new conditional license is expected to call for Valen-zuela to undergo hair strand testing, instead of follicle testing, according to Fermin.

"I think everyone is of the position that if he is to ride again, there has to be a conditional license," said Fermin. "Everyone is working toward a solution."

Papiano said he expects Valenzuela to be back riding soon. "If it's any more than filling out a document, we'll have a problem," Papiano said.

Valenzuela said he has been working horses at Moody Creek Farm near San Diego in an effort to maintain fitness. "I worked six in a row and didn't take a deep breath," he said. "The idea of getting back there and being in the action, I'm fine. I hope this rain stops, so I can start getting on some horses."

Waxman's decision cited four points - that hair follicle testing did not mean hair strand testing; that Valenzuela did not know that he was required to maintain his hair at a certain length; that Valenzuela did not have proper notice that he was to submit to hair strand or hair shaft testing; and that Valenzuela did not fail to comply with the order to submit to hair follicle testing.

Waxman, citing medical dictionaries, wrote that there is a difference between a hair follicle, which is present within the body, and a hair strand, which is on the exterior of the body.

In addition, Waxman wrote, "It was undisputed that he had hair follicles when he presented himself for drug testing on July 1, 2004." Waxman said that Valenzuela had the right to maintain his hair at any length, citing the first and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

"He may not be penalized for exercising that right," Waxman wrote.

Valenzuela was suspended for four months by the CHRB last May but was given credit for three months' time served from January to April. He served the remaining month in June.

Valenzuela returned at Hollywood Park on July 1 and was asked to submit to a hair follicle test that day. After Valenzuela told investigators that he had shaved his body, he was suspended for failing to provide a hair sample. In a hearing before the Del Mar stewards a month later, Valenzuela was suspended for the remainder of 2004 by stewards Fermin, George Slender, and Tom Ward. Fermin was named executive director of the CHRB in December.