06/19/2007 11:00PM

Valenzuela looking to Del Mar


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who has not ridden since November because of a rib injury and subsequent knee surgery, said he has started a physical therapy program for his knee that could lead to a comeback next month.

Valenzuela, 44, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that he hopes to resume riding when the Del Mar meeting begins on July 18, if his is physically able.

"I started physical therapy" on June 14, he said. "I'm hoping to come back pretty soon. I'm hoping to get back by the start of Del Mar. Hopefully, I can get back on the road to winning races."

The winner of 15 riding titles in Southern California since 1986, Valenzuela has not ridden since suffering fractured ribs in a paddock accident at Hollywood Park Nov.o26. Valenzuela underwent arthroscopic surgery on a knee in December. Valenzuela had hoped to make a comeback earlier this year, but postponed his comeback on several occasions.

"I wanted to ride at Santa Anita and I didn't give it enough time to heal properly," he said of the knee. "It's doing better than what it was. You don't heal as often as you do when you're younger."

Valenzuela said he recently saw Dr. James Tibone, who injected a lubricating jell into the knee and "told me to stay off of it until I start physical therapy."

Valenzuela, whose career has been plagued by substance abuse problems, is not currently licensed by the California Horse Racing Board. His license expired at the end of 2006. In the past, Valenzuela was issued a one-year provisional license that allowed the racing board to perform random drug testing. Earlier this year, Valenzuela said he would approach racing board officials regarding his license as he nears a comeback.

On Tuesday, Valenzuela said he has been watching the races occasionally, and is anxious to get involved.

"I can't watch that often because my blood starts to boil," he said. "I want to get back on horses. I'll take it one day at a time."

Stronach proposes renovation panel

Santa Anita's chairman, Frank Stronach, told the California Horse Racing Board on Tuesday that his racetrack was committed to replacing the stables in its worn-down barn area, but made no commitments when that would happen, citing historic, legal, and environmental concerns.

At the racing board's meeting at Hollywood Park, Stronach proposed launching an eight-person committee - three owners, three trainers and two representative of Santa Anita's parent company, Magna Entertainment - that would oversee changes in the stable area. Stronach said he is committing $24 million to replacing conventional tracks at Golden Gate Fields and Santa Anita with synthetic surfaces and updating the barns at both tracks.

Installing a synthetic surface is expected to cost $8 million at each venue.

Stronach's position on improvements for the Santa Anita barn area was a reverse from a letter written in April by Magna Entertainment's chief executive officer, Michael Neuman, to Arcadia, Calif., city officials that was read to the board last month by Santa Anita's general counsel, Frank DeMarco.

At the time, Neuman wrote that Magna had "no definitive plans" to replace the barns. At Tuesday's racing board meeting, Stronach called Neuman's comments "a poor choice of words."

"We are committed and we want to work with you," Stronach told the board.

Santa Anita is facing opposition to its barn area renovation from the owners of a shopping center adjacent to the track. The shopping center company has filed a legal challenge against Santa Anita's plan to develop part of its parking lot into an upscale shopping center.

"In the long term, this is very complex," Stronach said of the issues surrounding the track's stable area development. "There are legal issues."

Santa Anita's barn area will be closed this summer. Santa Anita's president, Ron Charles, said the area would undergo "extensive repairs" in August, but did not elaborate.

This summer, the track will install a synthetic surface, Cushion Track. The main track is scheduled to close on July 5 for renovations to begin.

Charles told the racing board that he does not envision any permit issues interfering with the installation of a synthetic track.

"Right now, we don't see any problems," he said. "We plan to begin on July 5."

Thor's Echo-Bordonaro in works

Thor's Echo, the champion sprinter of 2006, and Bordonaro, a Grade 1 winner last year, may meet for the first time this year in the $300,000 Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar on July 29.

Thor's Echo, winless in two starts this year in Dubai, arrived at trainer Doug O'Neill's barn last month, having been based with trainer Satish Seemar in Dubai since January. Thor's Echo was purchased by Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed al Maktoum in January.

Sixth in the $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai in March, Thor's Echo worked three furlongs in 38 seconds at Hollywood Park on Saturday, his first workouts since returning to the O'Neill stable.

"He worked okay," O'Neill said. "It was nothing stellar. He doesn't put a whole lot of energy into it when he works alone. He tends to be a little on the lazy side."

Bordonaro, fourth behind Thor's Echo in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs last November, is coming off a seventh-place finish in the Grade 2 True North Handicap at Belmont Park on June 9.

Bordonaro was with the leaders early in that six-furlong race, but was carried wide by a rival on the turn and tired through the stretch. Trainer Bill Spawr said that Bordonaro emerged from the race with a cut in a foreleg, but that the injury was not serious.

"That was a long way to go for that to happen," Spawr said last weekend. "It was superficial."

Bordonaro was second in the 2006 Bing Crosby, losing by a half-length to Pure as Gold after being struck in the nose with a whip in the stretch.

Bob and John works for Gold Cup

Bob and John, the winner of the Lone Star Park Handicap last month, worked six furlongs in 1:12.80 at Hollywood Park on Wednesday, in preparation for the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on June 30.

Bob and John will be trainer Bob Baffert's only starter. Baffert said that Tice, a two-time allowance race winner at this meeting, will not start in the Gold Cup and has been turned out "for a while."