05/13/2005 12:00AM

P. Val still in hospital, readies for knee surgery

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Benoit & Associates
Patrick Valenzuela: Long recuperation.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Jockey Patrick Valenzuela remained hospitalized on Friday for observation because of persistent headaches, according to his agent, Ron Ebanks.

Valenzuela suffered a concussion and a knee injury when he fell from Mango Escapade shortly after the start of the eighth race last Sunday. According to Ebanks, Valenzuela is scheduled to be released from Centinela Hospital over the weekend, but will undergo surgery on his knee on Monday. Ebanks said the knee surgery had been delayed so that Valenzuela could be treated by Dr. James Tibone, who had been unavailable.

The leading rider at the Santa Anita winter meeting, Valenzuela is expected to miss four to eight weeks because of the knee injury. His absence has thrown open the race for leading rider at Hollywood Park.

Through Thursday, Victor Espinoza led all riders with 17 wins, followed by Garrett Gomez (14), Tyler Baze (10), Rene Douglas (9), and Martin Pedroza and Jon Court (8).

Espinoza padded his lead with a three-win day on Thursday, winning aboard Bull Ranch ($6.20) in the first race, Four Checker ($20.20) in the fifth, and Roi Charmant ($7.60) in the seventh.

Arizona trainers making impact

Five Arizona-based trainers - Troy Bainum, Eric Kruljac, Kevin Lewis, Dan McFarlane, and Molly Pearson - have sent horses to Southern California for the spring and summer, giving a much needed boost to the horse population at the current Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting.

Their impact is already being felt in races at all levels, and is likely to grow in coming weeks.

Kruljac, who keeps several horses in Southern California year-round, won the $200,000 Melair Stakes at Hollywood Park on April 24 with Leave Me Alone. Last weekend, Verdin, trained by McFarlane, scored an upset in the Senorita Stakes.

The trainers have all raced in California before, and all have won stakes on this circuit. But this year, the Arizona trainers have brought at least 15 horses each, a reflection on a desire to race in Southern California and the lowered costs of workers' compensation insurance, which has kept some from bringing horses here.

The invasion of approximately 75 to 90 horses coincides with the closing weeks of the Turf Paradise meeting, which ends on May 22.

Recently, a claiming race included three runners that had previously started at Turf Paradise.

"The race might not gone without them," said racing secretary Martin Panza. "They certainly help."

Lewis has 19 horses based at Hollywood Park. Last summer, he was based at Yavapai Downs in Prescott Valley, Ariz., but said that experience left him with a sour taste.

"I was coming over here [this year] even if I had to get a groom's job, that's what I thought of Yavapai Downs," he said.

Lewis won Wednesday's sixth race, for $16,000 claimers, at Hollywood Park with Walker. He said many of his starters "will need an out" to adjust to the Hollywood surface. "I think they will fit," he said.

Kruljac intends to have approximately 25 horses in Southern California this year, compared with the 12 to 14 he had last year. Kruljac had 10 horses at Santa Anita during the winter. He will send 15 to 20 more to California later this month.

Leave Me Alone has been nominated to Friday's Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico, but is more likely to start in the $175,000 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks here on June 12.

Kruljac said a slight drop in workers' compensation insurance premiums has helped to make racing in California more affordable, but that it is still nowhere near as cheap as racing in Arizona.

"It's a little bit easier," he said. "I can train three horses in Arizona for what I can train one horse here. That has to do with feed, but workers' compensation is the biggest part of that. The labor costs are about double in California."

McFarlane has 20 stalls at Hollywood Park, led by Verdin and Muir Beach, who was unplaced in the Hawthorne Handicap last weekend.

Verdin's stakes win last weekend in the one-mile Senorita Stakes gave McFarlane's stable an early boost. The 3-year-old Verdin is bound for the $175,000 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf June 5.

"She's learning to relax," McFarlane said. "If we can do that a little more, I think she can carry her speed a little farther."

Many of McFarlane's runners are claimers. Last year, he had as many as 14 horses in California. He said he could be down to that number quickly if rival trainers take a fancy to his claimers.

"This is the best group I've ever taken" to California, he said. "But you have to make sure the horses fit. There are no free lunches in California."

Robador may run in to Peter Pan

Robador, the upset winner of the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for statebreds on April 24, is being considered for the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes over 1 1/8 miles for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park May 28.

Robador was a maiden when he won the Snow Chief Stakes for Barbara Walter and trainer Eoin Harty.

Harty said the $400,000 Swaps Stakes over 1 1/8 miles at Hollywood Park on July 9 is a long-term possibility.