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For Valenzuela, it's a familiar story
ARCADIA, Calif. - Jockey Pat Valenzuela was scurrying through the Santa Anita stable area Sunday morning, getting on as many horses as possible as he tries, yet again, to resurrect his checkered career.
Valenzuela, 39, recently received a conditional license from the California Horse Racing Board, allowing him to ride for the first time in more than 1 1/2 years. He secured three mounts on Wednesday's opening-day card at Santa Anita, beginning with Fall For Me in the fourth race.
"I'm doing good. I've been getting on seven or eight horses every morning," Valenzuela said as he darted from trainer Bruce Headley's barn.
Valenzuela had just worked a horse for Headley, who Valenzuela said appeared to be in good shape.
"He wasn't even blowing when he came back," Headley said. "He's pretty tough. He's a natural athlete."
Valenzuela always has had great ability. Witness his victories in major races such as the 1989 Kentucky Derby with Sunday Silence. But his career - particularly in recent years - has been marked with ever-lengthening suspensions. In order to receive his current license, the CHRB attached numerous conditions that Valenzuela must meet, including submitting to frequent, random drug testing, the cost of which the rider must pay.
"Like Pat said, 'If I stay clean, it's no problem,' " said his agent, Nick Cosato.
"He's got a God-given talent that everybody's seen and witnessed," Cosato said. "He's got a big hill to climb."
Same faces, new places
A number of jockeys have changed agents, beginning with this Santa Anita meet, notably Gary Stevens and Corey Nakatani. Stevens is now represented by Brian Beach, who also books mounts for Mike Smith. Beach said his first order of business with Stevens is to get him riding more mounts per day.
"Gary was gone a lot this fall. He was in New York, then after he came home he went to Japan and Hong Kong," Beach said. "He wants to ride five or six a day."
Stevens has four mounts on Wednesday's opening-day card, including Yonaguska in the featured Grade 1, $200,000 Malibu Stakes. Wednesday's card will mark two years since Stevens suddenly announced his retirement. He returned 10 months later.
Robbins misses Tiznow
This figures to be a very different Santa Anita meeting for trainer Jay Robbins. A year ago, he had just sent out Tiznow for a victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic, making him the unquestioned favorite for the Santa Anita Handicap. With Tiznow retired, Robbins is searching for a replacement.
"It's a lot different. I come out every morning now, and I don't see another Tiznow," Robbins said Sunday morning. "I'm going to have to re-adjust."
Robbins was heartened to learn recently that Bill Belichek, the coach of the New England Patriots, had used Tiznow's second Breeders' Cup victory - in which he re-rallied to beat Sahkee - as an example of how you should never give up. Robbins said Sunday that he sent Belichek a Tiznow Christmas card.
Busy 'off' week
Some trainers took a long-needed vacation, others stayed home and got caught up on their work here. Trainer Christopher Paasch spent the past week in Florida, buying more horses for his growing stable. His new acquisitions include Mighty David, a 2-year-old colt who will be pointed for the Grade 2, $150,000 San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 2.
"I've got a few more coming, too," Paasch said. "I need as many bullets as I can get."
Paasch wasn't the only trainer who got out of town on business. When he arrived at the airport in Orlando en route home, Paasch heard a familiar voice barking at him. It was fellow trainer Jack Van Berg, who had been looking at horses in Ocala.
"What's the odds we end up in the same place like that?" Paasch said.
A La Reine, 4, dies of colic
A ruptured intestine has led to the death of Grade 3 winner A La Reine, winner of the Sen Ken Maddy Handicap on Sept. 26 at Santa Anita. A 4-year-old filly owned by Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss and trained by Richard Mandella, A La Reine came down with colic, was rushed to the San Luis Rey Equine Hospital, and died soon after.
"She was a good little mare, and a real pet around the barn," Mandella said. "It broke everyone's heart." A La Reine, by Alydeed, won five races and $266,400 from 14 starts and finished out of the money only once. A La Reine would have run Dec. 31 in Grade 3 Monrovia Handicap. Instead, Mandella will start comebacker Paga in the "about" 6 1/2-furlong turf race. Paga won the Osunitas Handicap at Del Mar in her U.S. debut, finished third Sept. 28 in a Grade 3 at Meadowlands, then was sidelined with a quarter crack.
Mandella said Paga has trained well and hopes she will compensate for the loss of A La Reine and the retirement of Separata, who will be bred to the former Mandella-trained Dixie Union, winner of the Malibu Stakes a year ago.
Frankel's Blue Steller tough in Beaufort
If it's a grass race in Southern California, you probably have to beat trainer Bobby Frankel. The $75,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes on Wednesday at Santa Anita is no different. Frankel starts Blue Steller and Marine in the mile grass race for 3-year-olds, and both have credentials. The Sir Beaufort drew 13 entrants, and goes as race 8 on the outstanding opening-day card.
Blue Steller did not return to be unsaddled after finishing eighth Nov. 25 in the Hollywood Derby, a race run over a "yielding" course. "It was a bog," said Frankel. "If you didn't handle it, you just wore yourself out."
Jockey Alex Solis originally thought Bay Meadows Derby winner Blue Steller pulled a muscle, which turned out not to be the case. Blue Steller has trained well since and enters the Sir Beaufort as the horse to beat.
Blue Steller's rivals include Learing At Kathy, who is using the Sir Beaufort as a prep for the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes on dirt Jan. 12. Learing At Kathy finished fifth in the Hollywood Derby in his most recent start. Other in the Sir Beaufort include Sigfreto, Orientate, and Top Honours.
* Excessively Hot, a preliminary favorite for the $100,000 Survive Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares on Jan. 2, has been retired after suffering a suspensory injury winning a Hollywood Park allowance race Dec. 5. Trained by Bruce Jackson, Excessively Hot won four races and $226,403 in 14 starts.
* Jetin Excess will make her first start in more than a year in the Survive. Trained by Pico Perdomo, Jetin Excess won her first four starts in 2000, finished second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet, then missed her entire 3-year-old season with foot trouble.
- Additional reporting by Brad Free