Throughout the history of The Sport of Kings, we have been graced to see many breathtaking performances, both equine and human. Sometimes we’ve been fortunate enough to see a combination of both. With the 142nd Preakness Stakes coming up this Saturday, I found myself thinking of the greatest editions I personally witnessed.
There was Secretariat’s great run back in 1973. There was Codex and Angel Cordero Jr. floating Kentucky Derby winning filly Genuine Risk wide, surviving an inquiry and a good deal of after race controversy. There was Afleet Alex practically falling down and getting up and winning anyway. My personal favorite running has to be Sunday Silence’s victory over Easy Goer in the 1989 Preakness Stakes. This was not only one of the greatest ever, it was one of the greatest horse races and rides in the long and storied history of this great game.
I recently discussed this spectacular race with winning rider Patrick Valenzuela. The first thing that caught my attention was Patrick’s memory of the race and all that occurred during its running in fine detail. He was able to recall and describe the entire race in a play by play fashion worthy of this epic classic match up. Interestingly enough, Patrick had a connection to one of my other favorite Preakness runnings. He rode and won with Codex in The Santa Anita Derby before that thrilling rendition with the Genuine Risk controversy.
For the record, I think the stewards made the right call in that race leaving Codex up. Angel pushed the envelope as far as you can, but tightroped the line and didn’t cross it. Remembering that classic stretch battle between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer got me thinking what a remarkable career Patrick Valenzuela has had in the saddle by any standard or measure.
To put Patrick’s career in perspective, think about some things. Patrick or P Val as many of us have come to call him, has been riding at the highest level of the game going on four decades. That’s longevity! I first met him when he shipped in to ride a horse at Saratoga.
He was just a kid, a budding star jockey, and he was filled with a contagious eagerness and enthusiasm. Talking to him some 34 or so years later, he still has that same electric excitement when he speaks about our great game. It’s pretty obvious he loves it passionately and plays at the highest level. Patrick Valenzuela has won The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness, seven (7) Breeders’ Cup races, second and third in a combined five (5) others.
He’s won 17 riding titles at some of the toughest meets in the country and sport. He’s won multiple Graded Stakes at multiple racetracks.
He has ridden horses like; Sunday Silence, Fraise, Eliza, Arazi, Very Subtle, Opening Verse, Best Pal, Golden Apples, Acclimation, Tates Creek, and Lava Man, just to name a few. He’s put on some dazzling rides in some of the biggest and even smallest races and still today in the twilight of his career, he’s one of the toughest riders to get by in the stretch. By whatever means you choose to measure his career, it is a Hall of Fame resume without question. Frankly, not having a rider with Patrick Valenzuela’s record and longevity in the Hall of Fame takes something away from the Hall and the process. Only a flaw in the process can keep a rider like this out. It just doesn’t make sense. Maybe it’s a mistake and I just can’t find his name in there? It should be and I’d like to think it will soon.
Before we get to one of the best races, rides and Preaknesses ever, just look at Patrick’s stats (courtesy of Equibase). This is a Hall of Fame career.
Starts- 28,676 & counting…….
Wins- 4,372 & counting……
Career Earnings- $166,008,982 & counting……
Breeders Cup Moments:
1st Breeders’ Cup Distaff-2003-Adoration
1st Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies-1992-Eliza
1st Breeders’ Cup Turf -1992- Fraise
1st Breeders’ Cup Juvenile- 1991-Arazi
1st Breeders’ Cup Mile-1991- Opening Verse
1st Breeders’ Cup Sprint-1987-Very Subtle
1st Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies S.-1986-Brave Raj
2nd Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint -2012-Merit Man
3rd Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf -2005- Film Maker
3rd John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf -2002- Falcon Flight (FR)
3rd NAPA Breeders’ Cup Sprint -2002- Crafty C.T.
3rd Breeders’ Cup Distaff – 1991- Brought To Mind
Triple Crown Moments:
1st Preakness S.- 1989- Sunday Silence
1st Kentucky Derby – 1989- Sunday Silence
2nd Belmont S.-1989- Sunday Silence
Easy Goer, jockey Pat Day, and trainer Shug McGaughey came to Baltimore looking for revenge on Sunday Silence, Patrick Valenzuela, and trainer Charlie Whittingham who beat them in The Kentucky Derby two weeks earlier. Easy Goer was highly regarded going into the Derby and his connections wanted to see him redeem himself. There was talk he didn’t get a hold of the track at Churchill Downs, and was sliding and slipping over it, and he was expected to run better over a fast and dry Pimlico oval. He did run better, a lot better, just not quite as good as his rival.
After The Kentucky Derby a lot of people thought Sunday Silence was green and possibly didn’t like the stick. When he made the lead in the stretch in The Derby, he started ducking in and out. That was a concern to many, but not to Patrick. Patrick knew it wasn’t that he was green or that he didn’t like the stick. He was just a young horse who reacted to the large field, crowd, and noise. Patrick knew if he needed the stick his colt would be fine with it.
“My horse was ducking in and out a lot in the stretch in the Derby, but it wasn’t the whip, it was the big crowd and noise, and the big field, he was just young, I knew I could go to the whip if I needed too. I wasn’t worried about that, Charlie maybe was, but I knew he’d be fine.“
Patrick remembered and spoke about the Preakness like it was yesterday. Two great horses, and two of the best riders ever in a real duel.
“I really liked my position after the break, I was sort of stalking Houston and another horse, exactly where I wanted to be. Pat Day was behind me and inside me and I liked that too. By the time we hit the backside I was in a beautiful spot. Houston cleared off, and I had a lot of horse so I wanted to make sure I didn’t get stuck behind him if he stopped. I angled my horse a path or two outside so I wouldn’t get stopped. Then Pat and Easy Goer came up outside me and aggressively tried to just take over the race. He made an early move, but he also pushed me back inside to try and keep me trapped behind Houston. I checked a little and I lost my momentum for a second. I was upset. Something like that in a race like that can cost you.“
If you watch the race, and think about what Patrick said, you can see it happening before your eyes.
“After I checked I still had a lot of horse and wanted to take the race back. I was upset but knew I still had a lot of horse. I moved outside of Easy Goer now, and came right up to him and by the 5/16ths pole we were head and head and now I had him inside me. He was a big beautiful colt. He was a fighter too. He was probably the best looking colt I ever saw. My horse was a fighter too though. When we were going head and head and I had him on the inside in the stretch I thought I could tighten things up and maybe intimidate Pat or Easy Goer or both. I kept things tight. Easy Goer wouldn’t give in, I had him but he came right back and got a bit in front again. I went to the stick and I guess maybe Charlie and the owners held their breath because of the Derby but my horse fought back. I was so focused on winning I wasn’t watching and didn’t know what Pat was doing. I was just doing all I could and staying focused on winning. I did notice Pat turn Easy Goer’s head outward in the stretch nearing the wire. I’m not sure why he did that. I don’t think the way horses eyesight is that would really help him. After he came back at me after I had him my horse really dug in and we got the lead again.“
Did you know you won the race?
“Absolutely. I pumped my fist after the wire. When a jockey pumps his fist past the wire (no pun intended) he better know he won.“
What sticks out most about the race?
“It was just a great race. Two great horses and they both ran great. Pat Day was a great rider, one of the best and rode a great race too. We both did everything we could to win, so did the horses.“
Watch The 1989 Preakness Here:
The 1989 Preakness is definitely a race I will never forget. It was one of the best rides I ever saw, and one of the best races. When you look at all the moves and split second decisions both riders made, any slight variation could have changed the outcome. It was that close a battle. At the end of the day, on that particular afternoon, I think Patrick’s ride made the difference. Pat Day was always known as a patient rider, he was like ice water cool waiting to make those late moves. That day he moved early, somewhat uncharacteristically which I think goes towards how much they wanted that race, and how much horse he felt under him.
It is exciting to think of Always Dreaming getting a challenge from Classic Empire who had a well chronicled troubled trip in The Kentucky Derby and those two hooking up. P Val thinks Conquest Mo Money is a dangerous improving young horse. I agree with him there and I spoke to his trainer Miguel Hernandez recently. They have been pointing to this race and feel they are bringing a loaded gun. Jorge Carreno is riding very well, and it is nice to see trainers stick with who brought them to the dance. It’s no secret I have been high on Cloud Computing a while now. Will we see another 1989 type Preakness? Who knows, we may never but one of the many great things about this game is the possibility is always there. That’s why we’re always dreaming.
Patrick Valenzuela is home in Southern California rehabbing an injury. He hopes to be back in the saddle soon. Considering his past performances and passion, I wouldn’t bet against him.
HIGH FIVE: This week’s High Five goes to The Maryland Jockey Club and Pimlico Racetrack for putting together two world class cards Friday and Saturday.
LOW FIVE: That has to go to the Hall of Fame committee. Let Patrick in. he’s earned it.