Updated on 08/05/2010 9:03PM

Patrick Valenzuela returns to riding in California

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Benoit & Associates
Patrick Valenzuela (right) finishes second to Cathy's Crunches aboard Alaska Miss in Wednesday's first at Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Patrick Valenzuela launched his latest comeback in California at Del Mar on Wednesday, hoping, once again, to regain a spot among the circuit’s top riders and avoid another career derailment caused by substance abuse problems.
Valenzuela needed little time gaining support from owners and trainers. He has seven mounts on Saturday’s 10-race program, including Enriched in $200,000 San Diego Handicap.
Less than a week after regaining a license from the California Horse Racing Board, Valenzuela, 47, was ready to resuming riding. He was winless with three mounts on Wednesday, including a second in the day’s first race. Wednesday was the first day that Valenzuela had ridden in California since December 2007 when he lost his conditional license because of a drunk driving charge. He has ridden primarily in Louisiana in the last few years.
Valenzuela received approval from the racing board on July 22 for a license. It calls for frequent drug testing and counseling for alcoholism.
“I didn’t want to end my [California] career the way I went out last time,” he said between races on Wednesday. “I think I’ve got 10 more years left in my career. I’ll take it one day at a time and try to take care of my life on a daily basis. I’m grateful for a chance.”
A winner of 4,144 Thoroughbred races, including the 1989 Kentucky Derby on Sunday Silence, Valenzuela has been at this stage of his career before, regaining the opportunity to ride after personal problems and optimistic about his future. But he is old enough to be the father of some of the leading riders on the circuit, and enough of a veteran to have ridden with retired Hall of Famers such as Eddie Delahoussaye, Chris McCarron, Laffit Pincay Jr., and Gary Stevens.
Valenzuela said he attended Alcoholics Anonymous classes in Louisiana, completing a mandatory program, and then attended additional sessions on his own. He is mandated to attend such sessions as part of his stipulated agreement with the California Horse Racing Board regarding his existing license.
Valenzuela said his goals are “to have fun, win races, and stay clean and sober and do the best I can; to be an asset to California racing.”
“I always thought it would happen but I didn’t know when,” Valenzuela said of his comeback in California. “I wasn’t going to stop trying to get back home. I may not be leading rider now, but I can try to win as many races as I can.”
Wednesday, Valenzuela finished second in the first race on Alaska Miss, fifth in the fifth race on Dr. Tong, and third in the sixth race on Warrensmysterydice. None of those horses was favored.
“It feels good to be home and be around my family,” Valenzuela said. “I started riding here when I was 16 and I’m thrilled to be home. I’d like to end my career here and hopefully in a good fashion.”
Valenzuela has three daughters in California and one living in Colorado.
DEL MAR, Calif. - Patrick Valenzuela was winless with three mounts at Del Mar on Wednesday, his first day of riding in California since December 2007.

For the 47-year-old Valenzuela, whose career of 4,144 Thoroughbred wins has been plagued by frequent substance abuse problems, the losses were not considered a setback. On July 22, Valenzuela, who has ridden primarily in Louisiana in recent years, received a license from the California Horse Racing Board, contingent on frequent drug testing and counseling for alcoholism.

Acquisition of the license ended Valenzuela's quest to be reinstated in California after he lost a conditional license over a drunk driving charge in December 2007.

"I always thought it would happen but I didn't know when," Valenzuela said of his comeback in California. "I wasn't going to stop trying to get back home. I may not be leading rider now, but I can try to win as many races as I can."

Wednesday, Valenzuela finished second in the first race on Alaska Miss, fifth in the fifth race on Dr. Tong, and third on Warrensmysterydice in the sixth race. None of those horses was favored.

Valenzuela said his goals are "to have fun, win races, and stay clean and sober and do the best I can, to be an asset to California racing."

Valenzuela said he attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Louisiana, completing a mandatory program and then attending sessions on his own. He is mandated to attend such sessions as part of his stipulated agreement with the California Horse Racing Board regarding his existing license.

Support for Valenzuela has increased since his return. He has three mounts on Thursday and Friday and is booked on seven of Saturday's 10 races.