The highlight of this Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic at Gulfstream Park should be the rematch of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, but part of the showdown will be missing. Last week jockey Pat Valenzuela. who turned in brilliant winning rides on Sunday Silence in this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, received a 60-day suspension by California racing stewards because urinalysis detected traces of cocaine in his system. The test was ordered after Valenzuela. who claimed to be ill, didn't show up for scheduled rides at Santa Anita. Valenzuela. 27, has a history of substance abuse.
Valenzuela's case parallels that of jockey Chris Antley, 23. who surrendered his license in September after admitting to New York racing officials that he was struggling with a drug problem. Like Valenzuela. Antley had had a spectacular year in the saddle. Between Feb. 8 and May 1 he rode at least one winner for 64 straight days, believed to be a U.S. record (SI, April 24). No one knows when or if Antley. who tested positive for cocaine a year ago. will be allowed to ride again.
The two cases underscore how pervasive cocaine is in racing. Easy Goer's jockey. Pat Day. and leading woman rider Julie Krone admit having used the drug in the past, and rumors continue to link other jockeys to it. The problem is doubly disturbing: Jockeys who use the drug could be blackmailed by their suppliers into fixing races. And no rider should be impaired by drugs while guiding a half-ton animal in close quarters at 40 mph.
The danger of racing is one reason cocaine is the drug of choice for jockeys. Cocaine induces feelings of confidence and invulnerability. It also suppresses the appetite and provides a surge of energy—effects highly desirable to athletes who often have to starve themselves to make weight. As Dominick Bologna, director of the New York Racing and Wagering Board's substance-abuse program, says, "If you had to invent a drug just for jockeys, cocaine would be it."
SIGN OF THE TIMES
The abortion debate seems to be going on everywhere. At Williams College, some members of the women's crew team are wearing T-shirts that read: I'D RATHER ROE THAN WADE.
SWIMMING IN POLITICS
When Chinese swimmer Yang Yang left his home in Beijing last March for a visit with his uncle in Hong Kong, he had no idea he was beginning an odyssey that would take him all the way to the U.S. and create a political controversy. Yang, 20, an individual-medley specialist on the Chinese national team, was still in Hong Kong on a visitor's pass in May, when the pro-democracy student demonstrations broke out in Beijing. Alarmed by reports of the ensuing government crackdown, Yang decided to remain in Hong Kong. When his visitor's pass expired in August, he applied for political asylum, reportedly identifying himself as a "secret member" of the Chinese Alliance for Democracy, a major pro-democracy group. Beijing demanded his return.
Authorities in Hong Kong, concerned about Yang's safety and conscious of the pro-democracy sentiment in the British colony, refused to hand him over. But to avoid provoking China too much—the Chinese will assume political sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997—the authorities didn't grant Yang asylum, either. In late September he was jailed as an illegal immigrant for 11 days before pressure from international groups secured his release. A California organization called Silicon Valley for Democracy in China flew him to San Francisco on Oct. 3 to help him start a new life.
China was furious at Hong Kong for releasing Yang and warned that the incident would harm relations between the two. Indeed. China halted its usual practice of accepting illegal Chinese immigrants deported from Hong Kong. It resumed accepting the deportees only after Hong Kong apologized for the Yang affair.
Yang insists he is "not a political person." He had planned to enroll this fall at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where he would have studied English and prepared for the 1992 Olympics. Instead he finds himself trying to adjust to his new surroundings in the Bay Area, where he has been staying with various families. "There is so much space here, and so few people." he said last week through an interpreter. "You can't get anywhere without a car."