05/13/2004 11:00PM

Valenzuela's fate hinges on hearing


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Jockey Patrick Valenzuela will appear before the California Horse Racing Board at Hollywood Park on Tuesday to appeal a stewards' ruling issued last month that terminated his conditional license for missing a mandatory drug test in January.

Valenzuela was given a stay by the CHRB on April 16, allowing him to resume riding until the appeal is heard. Since his return to riding April 25 after a three-month absence, Valenzuela has vaulted to the top of the jockey standings at Hollywood Park. Through Thursday, he had 23 wins, seven more than Corey Nakatani.

Tuesday's hearing could end Valenzuela's year.

If the board rules in his favor, Valenzuela would be able to continue riding. If the board upholds the decision issued by the Santa Anita stewards on April 2, Valenzuela's conditional license will be terminated. In their decision, Santa Anita stewards Ingrid Fermin, Pete Pedersen, and Tom Ward stated that Valenzuela could reapply for a license in January 2005.

When asked about the hearing on Thursday, Valenzuela said he was trying to stay upbeat. "I approach it with confidence and that everything will work out," he said.

Valenzuela said he has hired attorney Terry Giles to represent him at Tuesday's hearing.

"I'll see him on Monday and we'll discuss what will happen," he said. "Hopefully, I'll walk out with my license."

According to CHRB spokesman Mike Marten, the board may not issue a decision on Tuesday. The agenda for the hearing states that the board will conduct a hearing on the appeal, and then adjourn into an executive session, a closed meeting, to discuss a decision.

Corey Black, who books mounts on behalf of Valenzuela, said that he is going on with business as usual and that Valenzuela will be named on mounts at Hollywood Park on Wednesday.

"We'll deal with whatever happens," Black said. "It's not in our control."

Marten said that even if the CHRB rules against Valenzuela, he may still be able to ride on Wednesday or Thursday.

"We don't know at this point if they would come out with a decision or not," Marten said, referring to Tuesday's executive session. "Even if they were to decide Tuesday, it would be consistent with the way the stewards operate and the board's policy not to pull someone off their mounts. Of course, the commissioners can do whatever they want. It would be surprising if they don't let him fulfill those commitments."

The appeal of Valenzuela's conditional license is the latest chapter in a career that has been plagued by interruptions for substance abuse problems. During a hearing with Santa Anita stewards in late March, Valenzuela said he had been fighting depression in recent months.

Last year, Valenzuela, 41, won riding titles at the five major race meetings in Southern California.

Ten Most Wanted retired

Ten Most Wanted, the winner of the 2003 Travers Stakes, has been retired because of a ligament injury suffered recently while in training.

Stud plans have not been finalized, according to trainer Wally Dollase.

The injury is severe enough that Ten Most Wanted, 4, would have been out for six months before he could resume training. Dollase said Ten Most Wanted was retired now because if he failed to come back to racing, he could miss the 2005 breeding season.

"We decided this was the best thing for him," Dollase said. "They talked about six months of rehab and another four or five months before he could come back; it wasn't practical to do it. As much as we all would love to run him again, it's the best thing for the horse."

Owned by a partnership led by Paul Reddam, Ten Most Wanted won 5 of 13 starts and $1,718,460.

Gomez plans to attempt comeback

Jockey Garrett Gomez, who has not ridden since December 2002 because of substance abuse problems and an arrest for drug possession last summer, is hoping to resume riding in coming weeks.

Gomez, 32, said on Thursday that he is nearing the completion of a six-month rehabilitation program that was part of his sentencing from a drug possession charge.

He said he has held preliminary discussions with Bob Fletcher of the Winners Foundation regarding the steps needed to regain his jockey's license. The Winners Foundation works with people in racing who have substance abuse problems.

"We're trying to set something up so I can go on," Gomez said. "Hopefully, I can start getting on horses pretty quick and be riding pretty quick. It's a matter of seeing the stewards and the CHRB and complying with what they want me to do."

In the last few weeks, as part of the rehabilitation, Gomez has worked at owner-breeder Terry Lovingier's farm in Murrietta, Calif. He spent Tuesday at the Barretts sale of 2-year-olds in training, accompanying Lovingier's horses to and from the sale ring.

Gomez has not ridden in Southern California since October 2002. Later that year, he was the leading rider at Sunland Park, near El Paso, Texas.

Gomez was expected to ride at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting in 2002-03 but never appeared at the track. The arrest on the drug charges occurred last July.

Gomez said he was encouraged by the response from horsemen that he received at the sale, which he said was his first encounter with them in several months.

"I spoke with a lot of people, and they saw me for the first time in a while and they saw how my mind is," he said. "They said they were really happy to see me."

Gomez says he still has obligations to the rehabilitation program and the courts related to the drug charges, but said that those charges will be withdrawn from his record if he meets his obligations.

"I've got some programs I need to keep attending. What comes first is my recovery," he said. "I have to check in with them and go to court for a check-up and make sure I'm still doing what I'm supposed to be doing."

Jockey agent Jim Pegram will represent Gomez when he returns. Pegram previously booked mounts on behalf of David Flores.

Gomez won the riding title at the 1998 Hollywood Park fall meeting. The following year, his mounts earned a career-high $9 million.

Gomez said he is ready to return to riding after spending time recently with trainer Leonard Duncan.

"I've been away from it enough," he said. "I told Duncan that maybe this was a good thing - not the way I did it - but I got to look at the big picture. I can't take this for granted. I miss being around there with my friends and being around the horses."

* A memorial service for trainer Wally Dunn will be held at Clocker's Corner at Santa Anita on Monday at 1 p.m. Dunn, who trained 1964 Kentucky Oaks winner Blue Norther, died last month at the age of 92.