Patrick Valenzuela, an extremely talented jockey with a trouble-filled career, retired today, according to an article at the Daily Racing Form. He cited gall bladder surgery, difficultly controlling his weight, and constant pain in his right knee as reasons for his retirement.
During his 33-year career, Valenzuela won 15 riding titles and over 4,000 races, including the 1989 Kentucky Derby, 1989 Preakness, the Santa Anita Derby on two occasions, and seven Breeders' Cup races. In 1980, Valenzuela became the youngest jockey to ever win the Santa Anita Derby when as a 17-year-old he guided Codex to victory. In 1992, Valenzuela became the first jockey to win two Breeders' Cup races on the same card, taking home the top spots with Fraise (Turf) and Eliza (Juvenile Fillies).
Valenzuela was the 1982 winner of the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award and rode such notable horses as Sunday Silence in his Derby and Preakness wins, Arazi during his dominating performance in the 1991 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Best Pal, Lava Man, and Bertrando. He won the 2011 Pacific Classic on Acclamation, the last million dollar race he would win in his career.
Valenzuela, now 49-years-old, was suspended on numerous occasions due to substance abuse, causing him to miss out on important events and races during his career. At the 1989 Breeders' Cup Classic, billed as the "Race of the Decade" due to the rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, Valenzuela had to be replaced on Sunday Silence by Chris McCarron due to one of his many suspensions.
Notorious for his ability to get a horse to break quickly from the starting gate, Valenzuela never lost his knack for giving a front-running horse a huge chance at victory. Throughout his career, a Patrick Valenzuela-ridden horse alone on the lead was an extremely dangerous animal.
Sadly, Valenzuela's career would have been even greater if he could have avoided the issues that plagued him over the last three decades. In a statement to the Daily Racing Form, Valenzuela suggested that he understood that didn't reach the limits of his potential:
"It should have been a lot more, and it is what it is," he said. "It's been a blessing, the opportunity that God has given me. It's hard to walk away. It's emotional right now. There is a certain time when you know what's in your mind. It's time to do something else."
While many might remember his jockey career more for the off-track incidents, Valenzuela was, without a doubt, one of the best riders of his generation.
Below is a video of Pat Valenzuela riding Arazi in the 1991 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.