“We talked the last three days,” Knust told The Associated Press by phone. “He seems so much more relaxed now that he’s made the decision. He sounded like at peace with things.”
He said Valenzuela wasn’t home Friday and was unavailable to talk.
Knust said the jockey is interested in staying in the sport, possibly with a job in broadcasting.
Valenzuela had been riding at 120 pounds for the last year, but he had to hit the sweat box daily to reach that weight. Jockeys who can’t make the weight assigned to a horse lose the mount.
“A lot of these jocks, including Patrick, have to flip (vomit) and that’s just not healthy,” Knust said. “They’re constantly fighting it day in and day out. I think the gall bladder surgery really brought it to his attention. That kind of made him start thinking about his health.”
Knust said Valenzuela’s knee problems had prevented him from exercising horses in the mornings, which is a way jockeys earn mounts in the afternoons.
Valenzuela rode for the final time on Nov. 13 at Hollywood Park, finishing fourth in the eighth race. He had two winners during the current autumn meet. He won 113 races this year, the last one on Nov. 12.
“We really enjoyed his comeback this time. He did well and we got along well,” Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith told the AP. “It’s good to see him go out on his own two feet. He’s certainly going to be missed.”
In July, Valenzuela was injured when his mount stumbled badly and unseated him at Hollywood Park.
Valenzuela rode 4,333 winners in his career, including seven Breeders’ Cup races, and had purse earnings of $163,893,554, ranking 19th on the all-time list among jockeys.
He ended a 2 1/2-year absence from California in August 2010 at Del Mar, after regaining his license from the California Horse Racing Board, which made him undergo hair follicle testing. The board revoked his license in 2008 after he was arrested and pled guilty to drunken driving. He rode in New Mexico and Louisiana after getting banned in California.
After his big success in the 1980s, Valenzuela spiraled into an abyss of drugs and alcohol in the decade that followed, repeatedly halting and nearly wrecking his career. Still, his talent aboard horses and his charisma was undeniable, earning him forgiveness and multiple second chances.
“He’s a great guy,” Smith said. “He was only bad to himself a few times. He seemed to have everything straight, so it’s really surprising to see him leave.”
Valenzuela won 12 races worth $1 million in his career, including the Pacific Classic in August at Del Mar aboard Acclamation.
“I can’t even say the words,” he said when asked what the win meant to him. “I’m so thankful, so grateful.”
Winning trainer Don Warren said that day, “We were looking for a speed-type rider and he’s always been one of the best in the world at putting a horse on the lead, so it was kind of a natural fit. He nursed the horse along just like we wanted him to, a length or two in front and was able to save enough to hold off any horse that made a run at him.”
Valenzuela rode his first winner on Nov. 10, 1978, at Sunland Park in New Mexico. He earned 15 riding titles at tracks in Southern California, including five at Hollywood Park. He swept the titles at the spring-summer and autumn meets in 2003, also the year he won his most recent Breeders’ Cup race in the Distaff at Santa Anita.