07/17/2002 11:00PM

Valdivia's not complaining


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Look for Irguns Angel to pop up again during the Del Mar meet, maybe even against Azeri. Jose Valdivia just hopes he will be along for the ride.

Valdivia suffered a hairline fracture of his left wrist last Friday when his filly, Flying Heart, collided with the inside rail of the turf course near the end of the second race and launched her rider into the cool evening air.

"Man, I felt like I was up there a long time," Valdivia said from his home a few days later. "I wondered when I was going to come down."

The landing was difficult. His left arm took the impact, sandwiched between his body and the unforgiving ground. Valdivia thought he'd bruised his ribs, and he was even more worried about his left knee, the one without the ligaments. That was another accident.

As it turned out, the wrist was the only body part to suffer significant trauma this time, which is why the 27-year-old Valdivia gets to say things like, "I was lucky" and "It could have been a lot worse," with a straight face.

The timing, on the other hand, could not have been worse. Business has been good, and the stakes mounts were beginning to click. The injury caused Valdivia to miss the mount on Full Moon Madness, winner of the Answer Do Stakes at Hollywood last Saturday, as well as Irguns Angel, who captured the $200,000 A Gleam the next day. This Saturday, Valdivia was scheduled to ride Sister Girl Blues in the $350,000 Coaching Club America Oaks at Belmont Park for trainer Terry Knight.

"Even though I've had quite a few spills, I've been very fortunate that I've never really broken anything," Valdivia said. "Just shaken up, a little scratch here and there, and right back up to ride the next race."

A fatalist might suggest that Valdivia was due. But this was one accident that did not have to happen. Blame it on the nature of the game in Southern California these days, where calculated chances are being taken by riders who are willing to roll the dice in the stewards' stand.

Valdivia's filly was forced to the rail by Ourfirstattraction, ridden by Pat Valenzuela. So apparent was the foul that Ourfirstattraction was disqualified from her sixth-place finish, which entailed no purse money, and placed eighth.

"We did that in case a test came back bad," said steward Tom Ward, "and a horse in the top five was later disqualified from purse money."

Valenzuela, on the other hand, was held blameless.

"He hit his horse once right-handed after they got into the lane," Ward said. "In the next stride the horse ducked in, or swerved, however you want to term it. We felt Patrick did make a good effort to try and restrain the horse."

We've heard this tune before, and frankly, is it starting to sound pretty lame. A rider is not required to use the whip, and if they do, they should be required to steer straight or be held accountable for the consequences. "Trying hard" is not a defense when a horse and jockey have been jeopardized.

Valdivia, for his part, saw the incident as race-riding gone wrong.

"He gave me pretty good room," Valdivia said of Valenzuela. "He started to take those other horses wide, and I thought if I got up in there good I would be able to take the hit even if he came down hard. He came down quicker than I anticipated. When he did, I just had no room."

Valdivia and Flying Heart - as well as her owners and her backers - ended up paying the price. The filly required a number of stitches to close several cuts and is probably finished as a racehorse.

"I kind of wish the rules here were more like they are in New York," said Valdivia, who has ridden in most major racing centers. "If you touch somebody, you're coming down. If you're at fault, you get a suspension.

"In the jocks' room here, everybody thinks the same thing," he went on. "You've got to take a shot, because you don't know what [the stewards] are going to do. Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don't. But that thinking makes it easier for these types of accidents to occur."

Valdivia will have his wrist checked on July 31, at which time it will be decided if the fracture needs to be recast, or if the jockey gets the green light to go back to work. Irguns Angel, if she runs at Del Mar, would be a candidate for either the Rancho Bernardo Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs on Aug. 25 or the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on Aug. 11. That's where Azeri is supposed to surface next.

In the meantime, Valdivia and his wife, Renee, aren't about to waste the deposit on their Del Mar rental.

"A friend told me I should come out to the races every day, because people will feel sorry for me and put me on more horses when I start back," Valdivia said.

"I'm in the frame of mind that I'll be back up and running after the 31st," he added. "So in a couple weeks, I hope I'm the guy with the full body tan and one white arm."