07/28/2004 11:00PM

Valenzuela hearing starts

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A three-day hearing regarding jockey Patrick Valenzuela's suspension for failing to take a hair-follicle test in early July began Thursday in the Del Mar stewards' office with testimony from a forensic toxicologist.

Valenzuela, who won riding titles at five meetings in Southern California in 2003, has not ridden since July 1.

Valenzuela, 41, was suspended July 2 for failing to comply with the terms of his conditional license, which requires that he submit to a hair-follicle test. The suspension came one day after Valenzuela returned from a 30-day suspension for failing to submit to a mandatory drug test in January.

Thursday's hearing focused primarily on testimony from Dan Berkable, the president of the American Toxicology Institute of Las Vegas. He was called as an expert witness on behalf of the California Horse Racing Board.

Most of Berkable's testimony discussed the length of hair needed to conduct a hair-follicle test. In early July, Valenzuela said that he had shaved his body and therefore could not provide a sample. Valenzuela, who has a history of substance abuse problems, underwent two urine tests that came back negative. Another was inconclusive, according to deputy attorney general James Ahern, who is arguing the case on behalf of the racing board.

Valenzuela faces possible further sanctions for failing to submit to the hair-follicle test. His attorney, Neil Papiano, argued at Thursday's hearing that Valenzuela was never told how long his hair needed to be.

The hearing was scheduled to continue on Friday and Sunday.