04/02/2004 1:00AM

Stewards rule Valenzuela can't ride until January

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who has been suspended since late January for failing to appear for a drug test, will not be allowed to ride until early 2005 after Santa Anita stewards terminated his conditional license on Friday.

In a one-page ruling, stewards Ingrid Fermin, Pete Pedersen, and Tom Ward ruled that Valenzuela had violated his conditional license for missing the test, and that the license was voided.

The stewards recommended that Valenzuela's license be reevaluated as of Jan. 1, 2005, when he could participate in a fitness-for-license hearing. The conditional license was set to expire on that day.

The decision is the latest setback for Valenzuela, whose career has been frequently interrupted by suspensions for substance abuse violations. "I'm sure I'm going to be back sooner than they think," he said in a brief telephone conversation. "I'm pretty shocked at the decision."

Valenzuela declined to comment on whether he had hired a lawyer. He can appeal the decision to the California Horse Racing Board, a lengthy process, or could request a stay from the CHRB to allow him to ride pending an appeal.

Valenzuela, 41, appeared before Santa Anita stewards in a hearing last Sunday. He told stewards that he was suffering from depression in January and presented letters from doctors. Valenzuela said he was unable to submit to a drug test on Jan. 22 because he had injured an ankle at home.

Valenzuela has ridden under the terms of a conditional license since December 2001 when he was reinstated following a 22-month absence caused by a substance abuse violation.

The conditional license was renewed annually, most recently in December. The license mandated that Valenzuela be available for drug or alcohol testing when requested by a steward.

The stewards declined to elaborate on the decision.

"I don't think we can say very much because it might be appealed," Ward said.

Valenzuela was informed of the decision late Thursday afternoon, according to Ward. The stewards had been trying to reach Valenzuela throughout Thursday to inform him of their ruling.

Corey Black, the former jockey and TVG commentator, said he spoke to Valenzuela on Thursday. Black was to become Valenzuela's agent if he would have been reinstated.

"I think there will be legal action of some sort," Black said.

Ron Waranch, a friend of Valenzuela's, said he was shocked by the decision. Waranch insists that Valenzuela has been free of substance abuse problems in recent months, but has been suffering from depression.

"I'm appalled by this decision," Waranch said. "He has had baggage in the past, but he had an illness."