01/26/2004 12:00AM

Valenzuela remains MIA

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who was suspended Friday after failing to appear for a drug test on Thursday, did not contact the stewards at Santa Anita over the weekend.

The ruling issued on Friday by stewards Ingrid Fermin, Pete Pedersen, and Tom Ward stated that Valenzuela was suspended pending a hearing before them for violating the terms of a conditional license.

Contacting the stewards is the first step toward a possible reinstatement, the stewards said.

According to the stewards, neither Valenzuela nor an intermediary of the jockey had contacted them. "The wheels have not been put in motion," Ward said.

Ward said that if Valenzuela contacted the stewards he would be given a 10-day notice of a hearing.

Valenzuela apparently does not have a lawyer. Don Calabria, an attorney and horse owner who represented Valenzuela when he was reinstated following a 22-month absence for a substance abuse violation, said last Friday that he no longer represents the jockey. Calabria said that Valenzuela satisfied his financial obligations to him in December.

Valenzuela, the leading rider in Southern California in 2003 whose career has been plagued by substance abuse problems since the 1980's, has not ridden since Jan. 19.

Valenzuela was booked to ride last Thursday but called the stewards at lunchtime to say that he had twisted his ankle while leaving his home. He was ordered to come to Santa Anita to be tested as part of the terms of a conditional license that required routine drug testing when requested to do so in the event of injury or illness.

His absence on Thursday prompted the stewards to issue the suspension.

The conditional license was first issued in December 2001 when Valenzuela returned from the 22-month suspension. The one-year license was subsequently renewed in December 2002 and again last month.

Valenzuela's absence dominated conversations at the racetrack over the weekend, with many people expressing surprise that he was absent after a successful 2003 when he won riding titles at the circuit's five major meetings.

Last week, he fired agent Nick Cosato, who had booked mounts on his behalf for two years. Thursday, Valenzuela hired former jockey and current television commentator Corey Black to represent him.

Cosato said on Sunday that he had not spoken to Valenzuela since Jan. 20. "I'm concerned for him in life," Cosato said. "I don't know what the stewards and the California Horse Racing Board have in store for him."

Valenzuela did not return repeated phone messages left at his Arcadia home. He did not return phone calls on Friday placed by the stewards or CHRB investigators.

"If someone has spoken to him, they haven't stepped forward," Ward said.

Big Cap may be on Southern Image's agenda

The rapid rise of Southern Image from allowance race winner last summer to multiple stakes winner in the last month has given the partnership that owns the 4-year-old and trainer Mike Machowsky the opportunity to seriously consider a start in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 6.

Southern Image won the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic for California-breds and Florida-breds on Saturday by a convincing three lengths in his first start at 1 1/8 miles. The Santa Anita Handicap is run at 1 1/4 miles.

If he starts in the Big Cap, Southern Image will be trying for his third stakes win of the Santa Anita meeting. On Dec. 26, he won his first stakes in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs.

Following that race, Machowsky waited a few weeks before committing to the Sunshine Millions. He plans the same approach for the Big Cap.

"I don't plan to run him a lot," he said. "I want to make sure he's good before I decide to run him in the Big Cap. We've done a good job managing this horse and not getting ahead of ourselves."

Southern Image has won 4 of 5 starts and $781,600. The Sunshine Millions was his third consecutive win, a streak that began with a victory in an allowance race at Del Mar last August. He was taken out of training last spring because of foot problems, missing the Triple Crown events.

"It was frustrating," Machowsky said. "I know it was the best thing for the horse. I see horses come and go and it's hard to replace a talented horse. We've had some issues, knock on wood, but we've had setbacks that we can deal with."

San Antonio coming up strong

In the Big Cap, Southern Image likely would face some of the runners pointing for Saturday's $250,000 San Antonio Handicap at 1 1/8 miles.

Pleasantly Perfect, the upset winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic last October, makes his 6-year-old debut against the handicap star Congaree, who won the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct in his last start in November.

Other probables are Fleetstreet Dancer, the winner of the $2.3 million Japan Cup Dirt in November, Star Cross, and Total Impact.

Sunday's program has an 11 a.m. Pacific post time and will finish in advance of the Super Bowl. The feature is the $150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap at six furlongs, which will include Bluesthestandard, Boston Common, Captain Squire, Marino Marini, Our New Recruit, Summer Service, and Tough Game.

Action This Day, Halfbridled nearly race-ready

Trainer Richard Mandella campaigned the two juvenile champions of 2003 - the male Action This Day and the filly Halfbridled - and both are on schedule to make their 3-year-old debuts in February.

Action this Day, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, worked a mile on Saturday in 1:37.80, leaving Mandella confident that the colt will be ready for a start in the $75,000 Sham Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 8. Mandella had considered the Santa Catalina Stakes on Jan. 17 for Action this Day but said in advance of that race that he was unhappy with the colt's progress.

Halfbridled, unbeaten in four starts and the winner of the BC Juvenile Fillies in October, is over a brief bout with a cough, Mandella said. She has resumed galloping and will have a workout later this week in preparation for the $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes on Feb. 15.

"So far, it looks like it's passed through," Mandella said of the virus. "Nothing bad happened that would keep us from running."