03/29/2004 12:00AM

Valenzuela makes his case

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The immediate future of jockey Patrick Valenzuela will be clarified this week when Santa Anita stewards issue a formal recommendation to the California Horse Racing Board regarding Valenzuela's one-year conditional license, which was suspended on Jan. 23.

Stewards conducted a 50-minute fitness hearing with Valenzuela on Sunday, reviewing the circumstances surrounding Valenzuela's absence Jan. 22 and subsequent failure to submit to a drug test as required by the terms of his conditional license. Valenzuela did not have legal counsel at the hearing, and was accompanied by Bob Fletcher of the Winners Foundation, which assists people in racing who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction. Mike Kilpack, CHRB regional supervisor, presented the case to stewards Ingrid Fermin, Pete Pedersen, and Tom Ward.

Kilpack outlined the violation of Valenzuela's contract. His one-year conditional license mandates that he make himself available for drug or alcohol testing as directed by any steward. Valenzuela was requested to submit a test after he called in Jan. 22 and informed stewards he could not ride because of an injured ankle. He said he would submit to a test, but did not show up. His license was suspended the following the day.

Valenzuela claims to have been suffering from depression, and has presented stewards with letters from doctors as proof of treatment. Stewards conducted a confidential phone interview with one of the doctors Sunday.

After the hearing, Valenzuela said, "I presented my situation the best I could. I presented everything they asked for. I don't see why I shouldn't be re-licensed."

Stewards must decide whether Valenzuela's clinical depression qualifies as mitigating circumstances for his failure to supply a test. "I've done everything I could possibly do to explain my situation," Valenzuela told stewards.

Valenzuela said he has been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings three times a week and meeting twice a week with doctors. Fletcher presented the stewards with a list of meetings Valenzuela has attended at the Winners Foundation.

Regardless of how the stewards rule, their decision will be merely a recommendation to the CHRB, with whom Valenzuela signed the contract that mandated testing. The CHRB will determine if Valenzuela is to be re-licensed. Either way, there is exasperation. Reflecting on Valenzuela's troubled past, Pedersen told the jockey, "The record is overwhelming; half my desk is Valenzuela."

If Valenzuela is re-licensed, former jockey and current TVG broadcaster Corey Black will be his agent. If he is not re-licensed, Valenzuela is expected to seek recourse in the courts.

"They asked me for certain documents from doctors, and proof of my situation. And I provided them with everything they asked for," Valenzuela said. "Without my license, it's unfortunate, but I'm going to keep trying."