Jockey Patrick Valenzuela in happier times after winning the 2003 Breeders' Cup Distaff on Adoration. He also won riding titles at all five major race meetings in Southern California in 2003.
After meeting with the stewards on January 12, he was granted a conditional license until the end of the year and could be back riding as soon as Thursday January 13. The conditions are quite strict and require him to submit to random drug/alcohol testing as well as keeping enough hair on his head for a hair strand/shaft test at least 1 1/2 inches long. He will also be subject to testing if he rides in other jurisdictions.
"To our knowledge, these are the strictest conditions ever imposed on a licensee to participate in racing," senior steward Pete Pedersen said. "I know of none more exacting."
Over his career, Valenzuela has had a history of suspensions for substance abuse. In 2003 he appeared to have finally cleaned up, winning five California riding titles capped off with a win at the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, but the Valenzuela of old was back in 2004, under suspension rather than winning races.
Valenzuela and his lawyer will attend a hearing on Wednesday January 12, where he will ask for his license which will likely be issued with similar conditions as he has had in the past, including provisions for random drug testing at any time.
California Horse Racing Board executive director Ingrid Fermin said, "The CHRB made considerable progress over the weekend in redrafting the conditions of an agreement governing the possible 2005 conditional license of Patrick Valenzuela." However, she added, "It's premature to assume he (Valenzuela) will automatically be licensed,"
What allowed this repeat offender yet another chance in the saddle, is a loophole found by administrative law judge H. Stewart Waxman. Waxman ruled that although Valenzuela had shaven off all his hair, he still had hair follicles under the skin. Since the California Horse Racing Board failed to administer the follicle test when he did appear, they were in error and thus the suspension is invalid. He wrote that the "stewards' decision to uphold Valenzuela's July 2 summary suspension for maintaining his hair at a length insufficient for hair strand or hair shaft testing is deemed arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion. He did not fail to comply with the order to submit to a hair follicle test." Where the CHRB failed, is that they did not specify hair strand testing, only follicle testing. Because of this, Waxman ordered the rulings by both Hollywood and Del Mar stewards be overruled. The hair follicle test is considered much more accurate than blood or urine testing, for detecting drug use.
This ongoing saga, with no end in sight, appears to the casual fan as a case of lawyers' interests taking precedence over the safety of horses and other riders, and over the reputation of the sport. Although Valenzuela did eventually appear, it was months after he was originally asked to, a detail Waxman conveniently overlooks. Athletes in other sports can use the Valenzuela example as an excuse to flout the rules, confident that a lawyer or sympathetic judge will find a loophole to let them off without penalty. Pat Valenzuela is just the beginning. Soon we may see Olympic athletes keep their gold medals after being found using steroids, when a lawyer is able to beat the IOC in a courtroom.
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