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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By Jim Charvat, Del Mar Press Staff — Stop by the barn of Antonio Saavedra on the backside at Del Mar these days and you may recognize one of his workers. On any given morning there is a man hot walking the horses and generally helping out around the stable.

Now, what if you were told that man has won more races (765) at Del Mar than every jockey currently riding at the seaside oval.

He is Patrick Valenzuela.

“I’m trying to do some live work and keep busy,” Valenzuela says. “And of course, I love being around horses. It’s also nice to be out here around other horsemen I’ve known for years and years.”

Valenzuela also is rehabbing from the knee replacement surgery he had two months ago. While he has not officially announced his retirement, Valenzuela is 60-years-old and has been out of racing for several years now. His association with Saavedra goes back to his riding days.

“I’ve known Tony for years,” Valenzuela says, “when he was working for Barry Abrams. Tony’s been a good guy to me and very supportive. He said he would give me a job on the backside doing something, so he’s got me helping him at the barn. It’s pretty cool.”

It sort of reminds Patrick of the days when he first got into horse racing.

“As a kid I used to help my dad,” Valenzuela says. “He had about 25 horses and me and my brother would help him. Groom them and gallop them and everything. I started out when I was 9-years-old, washing feed tubs, cleaning up around the barn and helping the grooms.”

When he turned 14 Valenzuela started working horses and by 16 he was racing them.

“I know everything there is in the barn,” Valenzuela notes. “It’s all I’ve ever known. I don’t know anything else but I do know horses.”

Valenzuela’s racing career spanned 39 years, some of it interrupted and marred by the demons of addiction. But much of it was filled with success. Of his 4,372 victories, one was a Kentucky Derby win aboard Sunday Silence in 1989 and seven were Breeders’ Cup wins. He had 68 stakes victories and 765 wins overall at Del Mar, fourth best all-time.

He’s hoping to get back up in the saddle by September. As for any kind of comeback to racing, P-Val will leave that up to fate.

“You never know, only God knows that,” he says. “The doctors will let me know if I’m good enough to do that. I’ll just keep trying one day at a time and see what happens.”

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