12/09/2011 4:54PM

Patrick Valenzuela announces retirement as jockey

Benoit & Associates
Jockey Patrick Valenzuela announced Friday that he is retiring as a jockey after 33 years.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Jockey Patrick Valenzuela announced his retirement Friday, ending a tumultuous 33-year riding career highlighted by a win in the 1989 Kentucky Derby on Sunday Silence but marred by substance-abuse problems that left him suspended for lengthy periods.

In a phone interview, Valenzuela, 49, cited a recent gall bladder surgery and the near-constant fight with weight as two of the main reasons for the retirement.

“This operation has opened my eyes to the abuse my body has taken over the years,” he said. “I’m not young anymore. I think my health is more important than getting out there and making the weight every day.

“I have to reduce every day. It’s a constant battle. I would ride at 120 [pounds], but the struggle to do that has taken its toll.”

Valenzuela won 4,333 races in a career that spanned from 1978 through Nov. 13 at Hollywood Park. Valenzuela was scheduled to ride at Hollywood Park on Nov. 17, but did not appear to ride that day. He later said he made an emergency trip to Kansas to visit his fiancée’s family. While in Kansas, Valenzuela underwent a drug test and passed, according to Hollywood Park stewards. He had the gall bladder operation while in Kansas.

The rider returned to Southern California in early December, and indicated to Hollywood Park stewards that he had a desire to return to riding for the start of the Santa Anita meeting on Dec. 26. In recent days, Valenzuela had a change of heart, his agent, Tom Knust, said Friday.

“In the last three days, he told me he was going to retire,” Knust said. “Now, he can get on with his life.”

On Friday, Valenzuela said persistent problems with his right knee, which has required multiple surgeries, also was a contributing factor.

“I can’t get on horses in the morning without it flaring up,” he said. “I think it’s time to turn the page. Maybe a new door will open.”

The jockey expressed an interest in working as a commentator on racing television programs.

In his prime, Valenzuela was among the leading riders in Southern California, winning 15 riding titles from 1986 at Del Mar to the 2005-06 Santa Anita winter-spring meeting.

Sunday Silence was Valenzuela’s most important mount, winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Valenzuela won 12 seven-figure races, the most recent of which was the $1 million Pacific Classic aboard Acclamation at Del Mar in August.

Valenzuela won seven Breeders’ Cup races, including the 1991 Juvenile on Arazi, one of the most eye-catching performances in the history of the race. Valenzuela’s most recent Breeders’ Cup win came aboard the longshot Adoration in the 2003 BC Distaff at Santa Anita.

Through his career, Valenzuela was suspended several times for substance-abuse violations. Valenzuela was banned from riding in California after a drunken driving arrest in December 2007 led to the termination of a conditional jockey’s license. Valenzuela spent the next 2 1/2 years riding in Louisiana and New Mexico before regaining a conditional license in California in July 2010.

This year, Valenzuela was the senior member of the jockeys’ room and a fixture among the top 10 riders on the Southern California circuit. At the recently concluded Santa Anita Autumn meeting, Valenzuela finished in a tie for fifth in the standings.

Valenzuela expressed doubt that he would change his mind in a few months and return to riding.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “It’s something I have to do, to walk away.”

His mounts earned more than $163.8 million, including $5.8 million this year.

“It should have been a lot more, and it is what it is,” he said. “It’s been a blessing, the opportunity that God has given me. It’s hard to walk away. It’s emotional right now. There is a certain time when you know what’s in your mind. It’s time to do something else.”