P. Val Eyeing Comeback

Pat Valenzuela on Sunday Silence in the 1989 Preakness | Horsephotos

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He's 61, hasn't ridden since 2016 and recently had a knee replaced. For most, this would be the time to enjoy retirement and look back on a career that carried him to the heights of his profession. But Pat Valenzuela doesn't see it that way. He's been working horses at Del Mar and Santa Anita, says he feels good and is seriously contemplating making a comeback.

“I'm a little heavy now, so I don't know if I'll be able to do the weight,” he said. “But I'm sure going to try. I'll ride somewhere, whether it's in New Mexico, Louisiana, wherever. I'll give it my best shot.”

Valenzuela last rode on Dec. 8, 2016 at Fair Grounds. He then tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and after surgery he still didn't feel right.

“The surgery came out ok, but there was still a lot of pain and it kept bothering me over the last four, five years,” he said.

He would try to get back on horses but the pain kept resurfacing.

“Last year, I was getting on horses for Neil Drysdale and I couldn't take the pain anymore. I couldn't tolerate it,” he said.

Knowing that he had to try something different to combat the pain, he decided to have his knee replaced, which took place in May.

He returned to the track after the operation and worked as a hotwalker for trainer Antonio Saavedra. Each day, his knee started to feel a little better.

“It feels really good. I can't believe how good it feels,” he said. “There's no pain. Before it was painful to get on any horses. It's not like I have a brand-new knee, but it's a lot better than it was.”

He took the next step and started galloping horses at Santa Anita and Del Mar. In addition to Saavedra, he said he has been working horses for several trainers, including Peter Eurton and Peter Miller.

“I'm getting a good response,” Valenzuela said. “I'm just grateful to be able to get on any horses. Most everybody has been encouraging. I'm not hearing anything negative from anybody. I'm just trying to keep it simple and moving forward. As far as the physical fitness part of it, I think it'll will take me another month to 45 days to get ready. The weight is the most important thing. When you get older it's harder to lose weight. I weigh 128 now. I am working hard and eating light meals. Usually one meal a day. Just trying to stay away from fats and saturated fats.”

Valenzuela, whose career was repeatedly interrupted by substance abuse issues, said those problems are a thing of the past and have had nothing to do with his prolonged absence from the track.

Should he make it back, he'll have to answer a lot of questions, namely can a 61-year-old who hasn't ridden in more than seven years overcome all those obstacles and be successful?

“We'll have to see,” he said. “I will give it my best shot. I feel really good. I feel like I'm in a La-Z-Boy with a remote control when I'm on a horse. I feel like I'm at home. Who knows? I might be better. Gary Stevens came back after having a knee replacement and look how good he did. I don't think the age will matter that much. I think it will be more about physical fitness and the horses I get to ride.”

While eager to ride again, Valenzuela is not taking anything for granted. Considering his age, his lengthy absence and his checkered past, he understands that some racing commissions may have reservations about re-licensing him. He said his preference is to ride in California, but if that opportunity isn't available to him he will look elsewhere.

“I've ridden all over the country but I'd love to start back in my home state in California,” he said. “That would be the ultimate. But if I can't ride in California I'll ride anywhere I can. Maybe Louisiana or New Mexico. I know I can still get a horse to the wire.”

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