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BREEDERS' CUP: P. VAL HAPPY TO BE BACK IN SADDLE.

Byline: Staff and Wire Services

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Jockey Patrick Valenzuela's latest comeback is under way just in time for horse racing's biggest day.

Back in the saddle for a little more than a month, Valenzuela has at least three mounts lined up for the Breeders' Cup on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

``Just being back riding is a blessing,'' he said recently between races at Santa Anita. ``I'm not looking to make any statement.''

Valenzuela, looking to add to his seven career Breeders' Cup victories, has his best chance on Bordonaro in the $2 million Sprint. Bordonaro is the early 3-1 second choice to Henny Hughes.

Valenzuela has 50-1 long shot Sharp Lisa in the $2 million Distaff, and will ride Courtnall in the $2 million Mile if the horse gets into the overfilled field.

Also, trainer Todd Pletcher is considering Valenzuela for Lawyer Ron or Flower Alley in the $5 million Classic.

The latest chapter in a career marred by substance abuse unfolded in July, when Valenzuela, 44, missed the entire DelMar meeting because of back troubles and other health issues he wouldn't disclose.

He spent six weeks at a facility that treats patients with mental health and substance abuse issues. He passed numerous drug tests before and after his stay, but he cited privacy of medical records for not explaining why he was there.

The California Horse Racing Board did not technically suspend him but didn't give him permission to resume riding in the state until late September.

Since November 1978, Valenzuela has been suspended or denied a jockey's license for 82 months -- nearly seven years.

``I'd rather not comment on (the absence),'' Valenzuela said. ``I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings or say anything that I shouldn't say. I just know that I did the right thing for myself and here I am today. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow's to come, just live in the day.''

Valenzuela, 13th in the nation with purse earnings of $8.8 million through Friday, has pleasant memories of Churchill Downs, where he rode 1989Kentucky Derby winner Sunday Silence and became the first jockey to win two Breeders' Cup races in the same year (1991) with Arazi in the Juvenile and Opening Verse in the Mile.

Lava Man on track: Lava Man jogged 1 1/2 miles at Churchill Downs, and exercise rider Antonio Romero said the California star ``really liked the track'' on which he'll race in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Undefeated in seven races this year, Lava Man had been working on Keeneland's synthetic track since arriving from Hollywood Park a week ago.

Withdrawn: Commentator (shin injury) was declared out of the Breeders' Cup Sprint by trainer Nick Zito. That allows Are- youtalkintome into the 14-horse field. Entries will be drawn Wednesday.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, has at least three mounts lined up for this weekend's Breeders' Cup races.

Chris Carlson/Associated Press
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 31, 2006
Words:484
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