Patrick Valenzuela, the talented but troubled California jockey named to ride Rock Hard Ten on Saturday in the Belmont Stakes, lost his bid to compete in the race when a Los Angeles Superior Court judge declined Tuesday to postpone a one-month suspension the rider received for failing to appear for a drug test.
Valenzuela, 41, who has battled drug and alcohol abuse through much of his career, asked the court to allow him to ride the Preakness Stakes runner-up in the Belmont because he had received the commitment for the mount before the California Horse Racing Board upheld his suspension by the state racing stewards on May 18.
With the court's refusal, Valenzuela, currently the leading rider at Hollywood Park, begins serving a one-month suspension Wednesday.
Rock Hard Ten trainer Jason Orman said he will give the mount to Alex Solis, the leading money-winning rider in the country with more than $9.4 million in purse earnings. On Monday, Solis, also based in California, won the prestigious Grade I Metropolitan Handicap on Pico Central at Belmont Park.
"Those guys are both good riders," Orman said. "Patrick has a gift, but Alex is leading the nation in [earnings] right now. If you have a good horse, any one of the top 25 riders in the country can do a good job for you."
Since 2001, Valenzuela has ridden with a conditional license, granted by the California racing board after he missed nearly two years because of a substance abuse violation. The jockey, who won the 1989 Kentucky Derby and Preakness aboard Sunday Silence, as well as seven Breeders' Cup races, last year became only the second rider in history to sweep the five major meet riding titles in Southern California.
The conditional license required Valenzuela to submit to drug and alcohol tests whenever the stewards asked, and on Jan. 22 he failed to show up for a test. After several days out of contact, he called the stewards and said he had hurt his ankle. Later, he admitted to suffering from severe depression.
The stewards suspended Valenzuela for the remainder of the year in April, voiding his conditional license and saying he could reapply in January 2005. When Valenzuela received a stay of suspension on April 16, pending an appeal before the California racing board, 16 jockeys in California signed a letter to the board in protest.
On May 18, the board heard his appeal and reduced the one-year suspension to a month.
"I don't think I deserved the suspension," Valenzuela said after the court ruling. "They didn't take into consideration the severity of my depression. They were getting pressure from not only the Jockeys Guild but other people who didn't want me to ride. The board did what it thought was right, but in my opinion I don't think it was the right thing to do."
Racing Notes: The New York Racing Association kicked off Belmont week festivities with a luncheon at Gallagher's Steak House in Manhattan, but jockey Stewart Elliott missed the event after his fiancee, Lauren Vannozzi, developed back pain and tingling in her hands. Vannozzi checked herself into Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, N.J., where she underwent tests. . . .
Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones will travel in presidential style from his Philadelphia Park base to Belmont Park on Wednesday morning. Police in Pennsylvania will accompany the colt on the first leg of his two-hour, 100-mile van ride before giving the detail over to New Jersey police, who, finally, will turn him over to New York police.
Smarty Jones galloped 1 1/2 miles by himself at 5:30 a.m. over the Philadelphia Park dirt course. . . .
Purge, who has lost to Smarty Jones twice but won the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes impressively at Belmont Park on May 22, is expected to be entered on Wednesday. . . .
Ramon Dominguez, one of the leading riders in Maryland, has picked up the mount on Belmont longshot Caiman. Dominguez had hoped to ride Tapit, recently scratched by trainer Michael Dickinson, in the race.