07/22/2010 12:49PM

Valenzuela's last chance? Not a chance


There are certain stories that command thoughtful attention over a prolonged period of time and then come to an end, resolved and neatly packaged, finally arriving at a place to be treated as accomplished historical fact.

For instance, there is no more to be written about the intriguing arc of the career of Cigar, from turf course flop to main-track sensation to teasingly handsome, infertile stud horse dud. Having turned 20 this year, he lives in serene, dignified retirement at the Kentucky Horse Park, his existence untroubled by those who would keep score by way of any disappointing offspring.

Then there was the NTRA marketing blitz. Remember those heady days? Long gone now, never to be revisited now that racing’s nominal central office has abandoned any effort at either advertising the sport or sponsoring a consistent television presence. Those pricey ad campaigns at the turn of the century featuring Lori Petty and Rip Torn can be found in the dead clip pile. But charmingly, even stubbornly, there remains in the Hollywood Park infield an arrangement of flower beds proclaiming “Go Baby Go,” decorating a track that soon could be gone baby gone.

And for those who thought that perhaps the racetrack conglomerate Magna Entertainment Corp. would provide story lines for years to come − phhhht. The air left that balloon after barely a decade, with the MEC brand now summoned only as a backstory for its post-bankruptcy successor, MI Developments.

Ah, but there is one racing story that will never die. It is the Nosferatu of all racing tales, the gift that keeps on giving, and it has risen once again from the moribund to haunt the upper reaches of the sport. Hold all tickets, folks, and lay in a fresh supply of specimen cups, because the California Horse Racing Board is on the brink of once again deciding that jockey Patrick Valenzuela deserves another chance.

Apparently, all that’s left for Valenzuela to do is pass a drug test, with the results of a hair follicle test forthcoming. Of course, Valenzuela has aced 99.9 percent of his drug tests in the past, so don’t bet against this one. There also will be much made of the terms of a new CHRB licensing contract, and it will be strict, ironclad. Then, voila. “Let’s get lucky” rides again.

As chances go, at least in California, Valenzuela has had fewer than, say, the Clippers, but far more than Lindsay, Britney, and Paris combined. Valenzuela’s expanding litany of transgressions, dating back to the late 1980’s, came to include a DUI in December 2007, which amounted to a breach of a conditional license contract that drove the CHRB to adopt the cut-and-dried decision of an administrative law judge. The ruling recommended Valenzuela be – and these are the words of the judge as adopted by the board − “permanently ineligible to reapply for, or to hold, a license issued by the California Horse Racing Board.”

Through the years, Valenzuela has relied upon a certain amount of institutional amnesia for his series of reinstatements. Racehorse owners, trainers, and commissioners have come and gone, having wrestled with the contradictions of his talents and torments. The late Charlie Whittingham was a champion, as were Thoroughbred owners Allen Paulson, Robert Lewis, and Ron Waranch, all deceased.

In the case of this latest likely reinstatement, however, five of the current CHRB’s commissioners signed off on Valenzuela’s “permanent” ban way, way back in 2008, giving their concept of permanence the life expectancy of the average field mouse. Permanent, as in what ladies of a certain age have done to their hair every few months. Permanent, as in a “Twilight” teen’s vow of everlasting love. Permanent, as in the levees of New Orleans.

Valenzuela is nothing if not persistent, and his return from exile in Louisiana will be greeted with applause by California fans and forgiving owners who remember him fondly as an intense competitor. A rider with the skills of Pat Valenzuela, by just showing up, always will be in demand.

There is also the issue of P-Val exhaustion. At this point, with so many other problems besetting the sport, the fate of a jockey who turns 48 in October would seem to amount to no more than a hill of beans. It will mean some extra work for CHRB investigators assigned to monitor the terms of Valenzuela’s riding agreement, but apparently they have nothing better to do, anyway.

The last time anyone checked, no one has an intrinsic right to hold a jockey’s license. There are hundreds of athletes who cherish the privilege and go out of their way to bring what they can to the business in terms of good repute. There are also those who have squandered that privilege and done everything they can to restore the faith they betrayed. For every recidivist of the Valenzuela kind, there is, thank goodness, a Jerry Bailey, a Garrett Gomez, a Julie Krone, a Pat Day.

“I appreciate the industry being willing to give a second chance, and third, and fourth, and fifth as the case may be,” said Day, who retired in 2005 as the all-time leading money-winner and has worked since in Christian ministry. “And I know, from my experience, that you can change, if that’s your heart’s desire, and you can clean up your act. But we’re also blessed with the ability to dupe people.

“I won the first race I ever rode,” Day said. “Then I tried desperately for the next 10 years to blow my career out of the water. I took it all for granted, with a total lack of respect for my success and a total lack of appreciation for the opportunity I was given. It was only by the grace of God that I didn’t self-destruct.

“I know, based on the record, it might not look too good for Pat,” Day said. “But maybe this time it will be different. I’m praying for him.”