08/05/2004 11:00PM

Valenzuela banned for '04


DEL MAR, Calif. - Jockey Patrick Valenzuela was suspended for the remainder of the year and barred from the racetrack for violating his conditional license last month when he failed to submit to a hair-follicle test, the Del Mar stewards ruled on Friday.

In addition, stewards Ingrid Fermin, George Slender, and Tom Ward recommended to the California Horse Racing Board that Valenzuela "not be considered for future licensing by the California Horse Racing Board in any capacity."

Valenzuela, 41, who has a history of substance abuse problems that have interrupted his career, could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Neil Papiano, said Valenzuela would appeal. Papiano described the ruling as "a death penalty."

Papiano said that Valenzuela should not be suspended because he passed urine tests on July 1, has not tested positive for drugs since 2000, and was never told how long his hair needed to be for hair-follicle testing.

"This is an unbelievable and atrocious sentence," Papiano said. "There was no test that showed any drug positive."

The stewards' one-page decision stated that Valenzuela was in violation of an order issued by the state racing board on May 26 that subjected him to hair-follicle testing. Hair-follicle testing is considered more thorough than urine tests, offering a longer time frame for detection of substance abuse.

Valenzuela was summarily suspended on July 2 for failure to take the hair-follicle test on July 1. At the time, Valenzuela argued that he was unable to take the test because he had shaved his body, including the hair on his head, armpits, and pubic area.

The hair-follicle test was a requirement of the conditional license. The July 2 suspension came one day after Valenzuela returned from a 30-day ban for failing to submit to a mandatory drug test in January. A hearing on that case was held before the seven members of the racing board at Hollywood Park in May. At the time, the board ruled that Valenzuela be suspended for four months, but gave him credit for three months served during the winter and spring.

A hearing on Valenzuela's suspension for not taking the hair-follicle test was held over three days last week in the stewards' office at Del Mar. During that hearing, Valenzuela testified that he never read the terms of the conditional license set forth in May.

Last Sunday, Valenzuela said that he was disappointed that the Del Mar stewards did not reinstate his license at the conclusion of the hearing.

The severity of the stewards' ruling did not surprise James Ahern, the deputy attorney general, who argued the case before the stewards on behalf of the racing board.

"When you look at the history behind this case, that's a big factor involved in this," he said, referring to the recommendation of a lifetime ban. "The suspension didn't surprise me."

Valenzuela can request a stay of the stewards' decision from the racing board. If that is denied, he can appear in court asking for a restraining order allowing him to ride until an appeal is heard.

Valenzuela, who won the 1989 Kentucky Derby aboard Sunday Silence, led the standings at five meetings in Southern California last year.