02/11/2004 12:00AM

Valenzuela talks to Santa Anita stewards

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who has been suspended since Jan. 23 for failing to appear for a drug test the preceding day, met with the Santa Anita board of stewards for 30 minutes on Wednesday, the first stage toward a possible reinstatement.

Valenzuela contacted stewards Ingrid Fermin, Pete Pedersen, and Tom Ward on Sunday requesting themeeting. The next step in Valenzuela's possible reinstatement would be a formal meeting, which has not been scheduled.

Valenzuela, whose career has been troubled by a long history of substance abuse, was accompanied by horse owner Ron Waranch.

Valenzuela and the stewards declined to comment on the meeting.

"It went well," Valenzuela said. "I explained what happened to me."

Valenzuela has not ridden since Jan. 19. He took off his mounts on Jan. 22 after calling stewards and informing them that he twisted an ankle. He was told to appear at Santa Anita for a routine drug test, a provision of his one-year conditional license, which was granted in December 2001 and has been renewed annually. When Valenzuela failed to appear, he was suspended the following day.

Valenzuela told Pedersen on Sunday that he has been battling depression. When asked about the subject on Wednesday, Valenzuela declined to comment. "It's a personal matter," he said.

Some of Valenzuela's friends say he is in the process of getting a divorce. When asked about the status of his marriage, Valenzuela said, "I don't want to comment on anything. This is my private life."

Valenzuela was not represented by a lawyer on Wednesday. His previous lawyer, Don Calabria, said last month that he no longer represents Valenzuela. Calabria helped Valenzuela regain reinstatement in December 2001 after a 22-month absence for a substance abuse violation.

Waranch said he accompanied Valenzuela on Wednesday as a friend.

"I feel very confident that Patrick will be reinstated," Waranch said. "The situation is different from what he's experienced in the past."