12/11/2003 12:00AM

Valenzuela, citing flu, calls in sick

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - If any other jockey calls in sick for a couple of days, it's a minor blip on the radar. But when it's Patrick Valenzuela, a collective "uh-oh" will emanate from the grandstand.

Valenzuela's well-chronicled battles with substance abuse have pockmarked his career, to the point where he had to agree to unprecedented, random drug-testing requirements as a condition of being re-licensed two years ago by the California Horse Racing Board. Valenzuela has had a clean record since then and has had success in the saddle, too. Entering Thursday's card, he was leading the standings at Hollywood Park.

Thursday also marked the second straight day Valenzuela called in sick, complaining of the flu. Hollywood Park's stewards said they were satisfied with his excuse but said they were going to have Valenzuela take a drug test Friday, assuming he was well enough to return.

"It's up to the CHRB investigators when he tests," said George Slender, one of Hollywood Park's stewards, "but if he does ride Friday, we will request it. He has to check in with the investigators every day before he rides, and they have the authority to test him every day if they want."

Slender said he had no reason to be suspicious about Valenzuela's absence.

"He sounded horrible when he called us on Wednesday," Slender said. "He called in today before we got here and told our secretary he wasn't much better. He left a number for us to call him back on, but we didn't."

Slender said Valenzuela has been conscientious about calling in on the rare days he takes off.

Valenzuela was named on seven mounts, Thursday. Two were scratched, but five ran, two of whom were morning-line favorites. Two of his scheduled mounts were picked up by Julie Krone, who entered Thursday's card trailing Valenzuela by just one winner, 22-21, in the standings.

Biancone puts Rings and Things in Starlet

Patrick Biancone will be seeking a sweep of Hollywood Park's Grade 1 2-year-old races next weekend, but he will be in a decidedly different position in each race. Biancone will have the favorite, Lion Heart, in the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 20, but he will be seeking an upset in the next day's Hollywood Starlet with Rings and Things.

Rings and Things is coming off a victory in a maiden race in her second lifetime start. On Thursday, she worked in company with the Saratoga stakes winner Whoopi Cat, who also was being considered for the Starlet. Rings and Things was timed in 1:27.80, and Whoopi Cat was timed in 1:27.60. After the work, Biancone decided to run Rings and Things in the Starlet and keep Whoopi Cat on the sidelines until the seven-furlong Santa Ynez Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 19.

"They went together. They went very well," Biancone said. "Whoopi Cat worked good, but I do not think it is a good idea for her to run a mile and a sixteenth when she has not raced since August. It is a bit greedy. The other filly has improved enough to run in the Starlet."

Rings and Things lost her debut, when she faced A. P. Adventure, a Wally Dollase-trained filly who also is pointing for the Starlet. Rings and Things then came back and beat maidens easily.

Victory U. S. A., winner of Hollywood Park's Moccasin Stakes after finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, is the likely favorite for the Starlet. A field of about eight is expected, including the maiden Hollywood Story, who has placed in several top stakes this year, including the Del Mar Debutante.

Chatlos takes conservative route with colt

Trainer Don Chatlos Jr. said that Last Minute Detail, a 2-year-old Devil's Bag colt who won his debut Sunday in a highly rated maiden race, will not be rushed into stakes company.

"I want to find an allowance race at Santa Anita, just go easy with him for now," Chatlos said. "I was impressed with his race. He had worked fast, but he didn't look like he was going to be a sprinter. And he overcame a lot."

Last Minute Detail rallied to win the six-furlong race in 1:09.93 after splitting horses at the top of the stretch.

Familiar comebackers on work tab

Santa Catarina and Sarava, both coming back from extended layoffs, worked three furlongs in company Thursday at Santa Anita for trainer Bob Baffert. It was the second work for both. Santa Catarina was timed in 36.40 seconds, and was credited with a breezing work. Sarava was timed in 36.60 seconds.

Santa Catarina, a 3-year-old filly, was given a lengthy break this summer. "She just wasn't right," said Baffert, who said Santa Catarina also had some minor surgery. "She had a little cosmetic stuff done."

Sarava was struck by a near-fatal bout of colic this summer, just after making his first start for Baffert, and also his first start since winning the 2002 Belmont Stakes, when he was trained by Ken McPeek. Baffert said Sarava has recovered and is coming to hand quickly.

"He's going to come back quick," Baffert said. "He's only 60 days away."