04/25/2004 11:00PM

Valenzuela wins 2 in return

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Patrick Valenzuela's tumultuous year continued when he rode two winners from five mounts at Hollywood Park on Sunday, his first day of riding since being suspended for missing a mandatory drug test in January.

Valenzuela was permitted to resume riding after receiving a stay from the California Horse Racing Board on April 16. The stay allows him to ride until an appeal is heard of the April 2 decision by the Santa Anita stewards to terminate his conditional license for missing the drug test. In that ruling, the Santa Anita stewards said Valenzuela should be banned until January 2005, when the term of his license expires and he could reapply for a new one.

Saturday, the board announced that Valenzuela's appeal will be heard by its seven members on May 18. The location of the hearing has not been announced.

It is rare for the board to hear an appeal so quickly after a stewards' ruling.

Most appeals are sent to the California Office of Administrative Hearings, which appoints an administrative law judge to hear testimony. The judge then issues an opinion to the board, which accepts, modifies, or rejects the decision. The process typically takes several months.

An administrative law judge will be present at the May 18 hearing, but the judge will be there to supervise administrative procedures and will not be issuing an opinion. A deputy attorney general will argue the case on behalf of the stewards and CHRB investigators. Valenzuela can have an attorney present to argue his case, although on Sunday he declined to discuss whether he had hired one.

Valenzuela's stay has led to criticism from rival jockeys. Last Thursday, the Jockeys' Guild sent a two-page letter of protest to the CHRB, demanding that the board rescind the decision to allow Valenzuela ride pending his appeal. The letter was signed by 18 jockeys.

The board responded by saying it would accelerate the appeals process.

Before riding, Valenzuela gets tested

Valenzuela, 41, began Sunday by working horses at Santa Anita.

He arrived at Hollywood Park at 10:30 a.m. and went first to the CHRB investigator's offices on the backstretch, where he submitted to a urine test for amphetamines, opiates, marijuana, and cocaine. The test was negative, according to senior investigator Mike Kilpack.

Shortly after 11, Valenzuela and his agent, the former jockey Corey Black, met with Kilpack; stewards Pete Pedersen, George Slender, and Tom Ward; and Bob Fletcher of the Winner's Foundation, which aids people in racing with substance-abuse problems.

The 25-minute discussion focused on the terms of Valenzuela's comeback, which are identical to terms of the conditional license.

"We had to make sure there was no lack of communication," Valenzuela said.

According to Kilpack, Valenzuela must report to the investigator's office each racing day and communicate with that office in the event that he will not be able to ride. Valenzuela will undergo frequent drug testing.

"He will be monitored by our office and the Winner's Foundation," Kilpack said.

Valenzuela's career has been plagued by several interruptions for substance-abuse problems. He told the Santa Anita stewards at a hearing in late March that he had been fighting depression.

'It felt like I'd never left'

Valenzuela attempted to put all that behind him on Sunday. The program marked the first time he had ridden since Jan. 19, at Santa Anita. Last year, he won riding titles at all five major meetings in Southern California.

After finishing second with his first mount, Butte City in the second race, Valenzuela scored consecutive wins on Haleakala Sunrise in the third race and Ms Mintons Excess in the fourth. He finished sixth in the Wilshire Handicap aboard Makeup Artist, and rode Defcon Five to a ninth-place finish in the ninth race.

"It felt like I'd never left," Valenzuela said.

When he won aboard Haleakala Sunrise, Valenzuela celebrated by punching the air with his fist. He received a warm response from the crowd when he brought the horse back to the winner's circle.

Valenzuela rode at 119 pounds, one to four pounds over his assigned weights.

"The horsemen have been very supportive," he said. "I wish I could do 115 or 116, but I did 119. I've taken off some weight and I want to do it right. I won't take it off in one day.

"I came back feeling pretty good. I worked three this morning, and riding five is the perfect amount. Corey will have me on a lot of horses."

While rival jockeys criticized Valenzuela's reappearance, his return has been widely supported by owners and trainers.

On Wednesday, Valenzuela has rides in seven of the eight races.

Account wagering keeps handle afloat

Substantial growth in account deposit wagering in the first four days of the spring-summer meeting offset ontrack declines and helped Hollywood Park post handle figures on par with the 2003 meeting.

Through Saturday, the most recent figures available, average ontrack handle was down 6.3 percent, to $1,673,293. Account wagering through the Internet and by telephone grew 55.2 percent, to an average of $656,938. The average all-sources handle was $9,552,260, a gain of 0.5 percent.

According to track president Rick Baedeker, account deposit wagering through the TVG system was about $1.2 million for Saturday's California Gold Rush program, compared with approximately $700,000 in 2003.

The ontrack attendance figures were lower than in 2003. Through Saturday, the average was 10,670, a drop of 5 percent.

Saturday, Hollywood Park offered a $1 million guaranteed pick-six pool, which was not warmly received by bettors. The pool reached only $954,622. An insurance policy made up the difference.

The same thing happened on the Santa Anita Derby program on April 3, when the guaranteed $1 million pool reached only $967,122.

Back from injury, Gann grabs a big win

The victory by Black Bart in Saturday's $150,000 Khaled Stakes may have been the most gratifying in jockey Sandi Gann's career.

The front-running upset by the 5-year-old gelding in the turf race for California-breds was Gann's first win at Hollywood Park. Gann has come back from neck, shoulder, and hip injuries that kept her sidelined for a combined five years.

"It's kind of hard to describe," she said of the win. "It's pretty nice to be back."

Black Bart held off a late threat from Lennyfromalibu and Continental Red to score a half-length win.

"I had so much horse," Gann said. "I didn't know what to do with it. I never even had to ask him to go. I was just under a hold, and I just had another gear."

Gann may have another chance for a stakes win at Hollywood Park this summer. Trainer Troy Bainum is considering running Black Bart in the $75,000 Quicken Tree Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on turf for statebreds on June 13.