10/14/2001 11:00PM

Valenzuela seeks exercise license

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Patrick Valenzuela appeared before the Santa Anita board of stewards on Sunday, requesting an exercise rider's license that could lead to him resuming his riding career.

Valenzuela and his lawyer, Donald Calabria, met with stewards Pete Pedersen, Ingrid Fermin, and Tom Ward for approximately 45 minutes, according to Calabria.

The winning rider in the 1989 Kentucky Derby, Valenzuela has not ridden since February 2000, when he received a one-year suspension for a substance abuse violation. Last February, his request to be relicensed was rejected.

Fermin said the meeting was not a formal hearing and that stewards had no immediate decision. Calabria said he intends to provide additional documents regarding Valenzuela's substance abuse treatment later this week.

Since Sept. 1, Valenzuela has been working in sales for Foothill Beverage, a beer distributorship owned by prominent horse owner Robert Lewis. With one exception, Calabria said Valenzuela has been sober since meeting with stewards earlier this year.

"He had a little problem in June," Calabria said. "He had a few beers."

Since then, Calabria said Valenzuela has attended 76 meetings conducted by the Winners Foundation, which aids people in horse racing with substance abuse problems. In addition, Calabria said Valenzuela has undergone 36 urine tests, all of which were negative.

"We're only asking for an exercise rider's license so he can exercise horses for a few months while he's under the watchful eye of the stewards," Calabria said.

Awesome Daze relaxing in style

Awesome Daze, a 9-year-old gelding who won the 1997 California Cup Classic, was claimed for $10,000 last week and retired to a central California farm.

On Sunday, Awesome Daze was enjoying the first weekend of his retirement at Madera Thoroughbreds, near Fresno.

"When he was in the field the first day, sometimes he had all four feet off the ground," farm owner Cal Fischer said. "He sure is a happy horse. I had him in a round pen. You couldn't see him because of all the dirt and dust he was kicking up."

Fischer said he has been involved with four generations of Awesome Daze's breeding, having sold Awesome Daze's dam. He said he bought the great-granddam at a sale in Ocala, Fla. Awesome Daze was bred by Robert Monroy, and was later acquired by David Milch, who campaigned him in 1997.

Milch later lost Awesome Daze through a claim.

In the last year, Fischer had grown tired of watching the former stakes winner struggle against cheap claimers. In 13 starts this year, Awesome Daze was winless, but was claimed six times.

"I couldn't stand to see him run for $10,000," Fischer said. "He actually looks good. We have a few pensioners here. The Fresno River goes through the middle of the farm. We're on a flood plain and down there is grass up to the knees. If he calms down, we may leave him out there or we may make a pony out of him.

"We've got faxes from South Carolina, Texas, and New Mexico. I don't know how the word got out so fast. People thanked us for taking him."

Rare successful day for Van Berg

Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg needed a day like Saturday.

In the stable's best day of the year, Van Berg saddled three winners, bringing his total for the year to 17 victories.

In the 1980's, Van Berg's nationwide stable seemed to have that many winners a month, racing at venues as diverse as California, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Nebraska. The stable was at its heyday when Alysheba won the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

These days, Van Berg has 35 horses at Hollywood Park.

On Saturday, he won with Prized Gem ($6.20), Slewston ($41), and Highland Dawn ($9.80). After Highland Dawn's win, Van Berg was told by a well-wisher that it was nice to see that he was hot.

"I've been freezing for a long time," he replied.

"You've got to be lucky," he said later. "I train the same way I've always had."

Stable security tightens

Santa Anita president Jack Liebau said the track has increased stable area security following an incident last week in which three horses were found with sponges in their nasal passages.

None of the horses started, but two were scratched from the second race on Oct. 10.

Over the weekend, track security began asking backstretch employees to always display licenses issued by the California Horse Racing Board.

"We're taking steps to make the backstretch more secure," Liebau said. "We're increasing our vigilance and we're cooperating with the CHRB. We are adding some more staff on the backstretch."

Liebau said that catching the people involved in the sponge incident may be difficult.

"The problem is this probably took place by someone who is licensed," he said. "Some trainers have night watchmen and some don't. While I don't know, I suspect this was done at some point deep in the night. That's the problem."

Liebau said the same security measures were put in place at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields in northern California. Like Santa Anita, those tracks are owned by Magna Entertainment.

Men's Exclusive to Cal Cup

Men's Exclusive, a stakes winner in California last winter, will pass the Breeders' Cup Sprint in favor of the California Cup Sprint on Nov. 3, trainer Wesley Ward said.

After Men's Exclusive finished seventh in the Vanderbilt Stakes at Saratoga in August, Ward changed his goals for the fall.

"I expected him to run the race of his life and he didn't," Ward said. "He came out of it 100 percent and didn't bleed. Maybe he just didn't like it there. I turned him out for three weeks and since he's trained well." On Sunday, Men's Exclusive worked five furlongs in 1:01.40.

* Millennium Wind, the Blue Grass Stakes winner who has been plagued by foot problems throughout the year, is being pointed for the $350,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 24, trainer David Hofmans said. Unraced since finishing unplaced in the Kentucky Derby, Millennium Wind was under consideration for the Pegasus Handicap at The Meadowlands when Hofmans decided the colt needed more time.

* During an autumn meeting when the early half of the Oak Tree stakes schedule is dominated by Breeders' Cup preps, there can be gaps of quality in the second half of the stakes calender. This weekend, with the Breeders' Cup preps finished and the California Cup looming on Nov. 3, there are two $75,000 sprints for 2-year-olds - the Sunny Slope on Saturday and the Anoakia Stakes for fillies on Sunday.

* Roman Dancer, a maiden winner at Del Mar who was unplaced in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, will start in the Sunny Slope. Asian Adventure, the winner of the CTBA Stakes at Del Mar in late July, heads the Anoakia field. Both races are run over six furlongs.