Updated on 09/17/2011 10:45AM

Valenzuela racks up wins - and days

Benoit & Associates
Patrick Valenzuela wins the Quicken Tree aboard Continental Red at Hollywood Park Sunday. The jockey won nine races over the weekend, but also landed a three-day suspension and came under scrutiny from the stewards.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - There was no doubt which jockey was the hottest at Hollywood Park over the weekend. There also was no doubt which jockey was at the center of the most controversy.

Patrick Valenzuela stormed to the top of the jockey standings with nine wins - five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The five-win day marked a personal best at Hollywood Park for Valenzuela, 40, who has a four-race lead over Victor Espinoza going into Wednesday's eight-race program.

On Sunday, Valenzuela won his fifth stakes of the meeting when Continental Red took the Quicken Tree Stakes against California-breds.

"With those horses, he will be tough all the time," Valenzuela said of Continental Red. "We had a great weekend."

But the weekend, particularly Saturday, was not without its setbacks.

Valenzuela received a three-day suspension for his winning ride aboard Conquer the Galaxy in Saturday's 10th race and had another ride closely scrutinized by track stewards.

Conquer the Galaxy won a maiden race over 1 1/16 miles on turf by two lengths, rallying from fifth to take command in midstretch. When Conquer the Galaxy went to the front, he ducked to the inside, leaving eventual third-place finisher High Alert briefly in tight quarters.

In a ruling issued Sunday, the stewards cited Valenzuela for "failure to make the proper effort to maintain a straight course in the stretch."

The suspension is scheduled to cover racing from Thursday through Saturday, but Valenzuela said Sunday that he is likely to appeal.

"I'm almost certain I will," he said. "I have a lot of commitments I want to keep."

One of Valenzuela's losing rides also drew the attention of stewards, who met with the rider Sunday morning.

In Saturday's Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap, Valenzuela rode Blue Steller, who raced alongside favorite Storming Home on the backstretch of the turf race. At one point near the half-mile pole, it appeared that Valenzuela's whip was near Storming Home's face, although video replays were inconclusive.

Valenzuela argued before the stewards that his whip did not make contact with Storming Home. The stewards took no action against Valenzuela. Storming Home went on to win, and Blue Steller finished fifth by 4 1/4 lengths.

"He said he had his right rein out to keep his mount off the other horses," steward George Slender said. "The whip was in with the right rein."

Neil Drysdale, who trains Storming Home, mentioned the backstretch incident after the Whittingham.

"Patrick had his stick in his face, which didn't help," Drysdale said.

The episode also drew comments from jockey Gary Stevens, who rode Storming Home.

"The boys were not playing fair," he said. "A couple of them, anyway. One guy in particular had some other ideas about how the race should be run."

On Sunday, Valenzuela said he was racing alongside Storming Home to keep Blue Steller in the clear and away from the heels of the three horses racing in front of him. He said he meant no malice toward Storming Home.

"I was pulling my horse out because he was following behind the leaders," Valenzuela said.

Valenzuela downplayed both incidents, preferring to focus on the success that has made him the leading rider on the circuit in the last 18 months, since returning from a two-year absence because of substance-abuse problems.

Valenzuela's five-win day was one short of his personal best. At Santa Anita on Oct. 21, 1988, he won six races.

Over the weekend, Valenzuela rode in all 19 races. He is named in five of Wednesday's eight races. His success has kept him in high demand and given agent Nick Cosato plenty of options when choosing mounts.

"I didn't mind at all," Valenzuela said of his busy riding schedule. "As long as my agent lets me off on Mondays and Tuesdays."