Horse Racing

By Beth Harris

LOS ANGELES, Dec 11 AP – Controversial jockey Patrick Valenzuela has announced his retirement after a 33-year career marred by no fewer than a dozen bans for substance abuse.

He gained international fame as the rider of 1989 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Sunday Silence who later became the cornerstone of breeding in Japan.

Valenzuela’s agent, Tom Knust, said the 49-year-old rider made the decision to quit after recent surgery to remove his gall bladder in addition to battling weight and knee problems.

“We talked the last three days,” Knust told the Associated Press.

“He seems so much more relaxed now that he’s made the decision. He sounded like at peace with things.”

Valenzuela had been riding at 120 pounds (53.5kg) for the past year but he had to hit the sweat box daily to reach that weight.

“A lot of these jocks, including Patrick, have to flip (vomit) and that’s just not healthy,” Knust said.

“They’re constantly fighting it day in and day out. I think the gall bladder surgery really brought it to his attention. That kind of made him start thinking about his health.”

Valenzuela rode for the final time on November 13 at Hollywood Park, finishing fourth in the eighth race, a day after his 113th winner for the year.

“We really enjoyed his comeback this time. He did well and we got along well,” Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith said.

“It’s good to see him go out on his own two feet. He’s certainly going to be missed.”

In July, Valenzuela was injured when his mount stumbled badly and unseated him at Hollywood Park.

Valenzuela rode 4333 winners during his career, including seven Breeders’ Cup races.

He ended a 2-1/2-year absence from California in August 2010 at Del Mar after regaining his license from the California Horse Racing Board, which made him undergo hair follicle testing.

The board revoked his license in 2008 after he was arrested and pled guilty to drunken driving. He rode in New Mexico and Louisiana after getting banned in California.

After his big successes in the 1980s, Valenzuela spiralled into an abyss of drugs and alcohol in the decade that followed, repeatedly halting and nearly wrecking his career.

Still, his talent aboard horses and his charisma was undeniable, earning him forgiveness and multiple second chances.