One morning late last week, I was tipped off that Pat Valenzuela, the jockey with 99 lives, had been pinched for drunken driving several hours after riding the opening-day card at Santa Anita. I called Tom Knust, Valenzuela's agent, for confirmation, but Knust said that he didn't know anything about the report. A classy ex-Marine who has a bullet hole and a Purple Heart among his Vietnam souvenirs, Knust learned the racing game from the ground up, and once labored at the knee of Jimmy Kilroe in Santa Anita's racing office. Not long after my call, he went over to Valenzuela's house, where the troubled rider confessed that there was indeed a DUI. Knust called me back to say that I had the story half-right: His jockey had actually been cited by the police the week before.

Knust quit as Valenzuela's agent, a decision that was academic, because the California Horse Racing Board had already voided the jockey's conditional license. A stipulation in the license was that Valenzuela wasn't supposed to touch even a thimble of beer, let alone paint the town.

Nothing changes. The 45-year-old Valenzuela, who has a 20-year history of alcohol and drug abuse, has the same old MO of keeping his agents in the dark. Knust is just one more who's become the last to know.

In the fall of 1989, Valenzuela was booked to ride Hawkster, the favorite in a $500,000 race at Santa Anita. A few hours before the race, Ron McAnally, the trainer of the horse, was approached by several agents who were lobbying for the mount.

"What are you talking about?" McAnally said. "I've got PVal."

"No, you don't," the trainer was told.

Deputizing, Russell Baze rode Hawkster to victory in 2:22 4/5, a world record for 1 1/2 miles on turf.

Posing for pictures in the winner's circle, McAnally was still livid about being stiffed by Valenzuela.

"Neither of them (Valenzuela and one of his longer-lasting agents, Jerry Ingordo) even contacted me," McAnally said. "I had to find out from the other agents."

That night, I reached Ingordo at his home. He was hotter that McAnally.

"I didn't know Pat was off his mounts till I called the racing office to find out who won the first race," Ingordo said.

Valenzuela told the stewards that he was ill with flu. It was the third time at the meet that he had taken off.

"He missed mounts on Lively One and Ruhlmann, very important horses," Ingordo said, "and I fell for his excuses. Now he misses a race on one of the best grass horses in the country. I can't work for this guy anymore. He's got no conscience."

Not long after the Hawkster race, Valenzuela tested positive for cocaine. Consequently, Chris McCarron was astride Sunday Silence, Valenzuela's Kentucky Derby winner, as the colt won the $3-million Breeders' Cup Classic at Gulfstream Park.

In 1993, Valenzuela made another sick call to the stewards and McCarron rode Fraise to victory in the $500,000 Hollywood Turf Cup. Valenzuela didn't call his agent, Nick Cosato, until the next day. Cosato dumped him. "That was the third time he's done that to me," the agent said. "I'm a professional, and I can't be honest with my clients when my rider treats me like this."

Valenzuela's contretemps on the road are legendary. He flew to Baltimore to ride Sunny Blossom, a fine sprinter, in a race at Pimlico. Trainer Eddie Gregson, sitting in the stands with the horse's owner, was paged to report to the jockeys' room. Valenzuela was in his hotel room, he said, but unable to ride. Another time, expected to ride in a big race in Chicago, Valenzuela took a plane from Los Angeles to Dallas by mistake and missed the assignment. In Florida, asked to fill a vial for a urine test, he turned in a specimen which, according to the chemists, didn't come from a human.

A few years ago, Valenzuela shaved his head and his pubic area, preventing a lab from running a drug test on a strand of his hair. During a hearing at Del Mar, one of the stewards, a woman, listened to testimony while glossies of Valenzuela's pelvis sat on her desk. She was Ingrid Fermin, who is just winding up a three-year run as executive director of the racing board. When I called Fermin about Valenzuela the other day, she said something about being halfway out the door and referred me to PR. Fermin, I'm told, was delighted to sign the order that revoked Valenzuela's license.

Trainers continued to ride him because he was one of the best and, extraordinarily, able to immediately win races after months and months on the bench. The racing board, for reasons of its own, has caved in time and again and re-licensed him. Valenzuela has always surrounded himself with savvy lawyers who could find a loophole in a vat of Jello-O. One time, even though Valenzulela's contract called for unlimited testing, the stewards went months without handing him a bottle. I wrote about this egregious oversight, and Valenzuela's lawyer called to thank me for the column. "We want them to test Pat," the attorney said. "Letting him go long stretches without being tested is like turning him loose in a candy store."

Before he bailed on Valenzuela, Tom Knust gave him some advice.

"I told him to give up on riding and find something else to do," Knust said. "He's got four kids, and he needs a reliable means of support. He's got a problem with his weight, and it's not like he's 30 or 35 and can take the weight off easily. He needs to flip (regurgitate food), and that takes its toll. He's got a bad knee that's going to continue to bother him. He's got an addictive personality, and outside of racing he might be able to address that."

Valenzuela won the Santa Anita Derby, with Codex, when he was 17. He's won almost 4,000 races, including seven Breeders' Cup stakes, and his mounts have earned $147 million, which ranks him 18th on the career money list. Jockeys like Bill Shoemaker, Craig Perret and Eddie Maple trail him by plenty in purses. In recent years, there has been a misguided suggestion or two that he be placed on the ballot for the Racing Hall of Fame. If they ever throw that against the wall and it sticks, they better make sure none of his agents gets a vote.