Heriberto Figueroa is one of the best-kept secrets on the Southern California circuit so far, but that's likely to change soon. Winning races in bunches for assorted trainers will do that.
“He's learning every day; that's what we're concentrating on,” said his agent, Nelson Arroyo. “He's getting better every day and he has all the natural talent in the world. Now he's putting it all together.
“He watches replays every day, stays humble, and that's the main thing with him. He's improving all the time and you'll see that every week.”
Figueroa, like Arroyo a native of Puerto Rico, is a 19-year-old graduate of the Island Nation's famed Escuela Vocacional Hipica riding school, which has produced the dynamic Ortiz brothers, Jose and Irad Jr., Evin Roman, John Velazquez and Manuel Franco, among others.
“He attended the jockey school for two years in Puerto Rico,” Arroyo said. “He rides for several different top trainers and in the mornings, works for everybody every single set just about every day.”
But wait. There's more.
Arroyo expects another promising young rider from Puerto Rico to be under his wing at Santa Anita shortly.
“The same person who called me about Heriberto called me again and told me I had to look at this kid. 'I think I found you another freak,'” he said. “I watched him ride his first race on Jan. 1 in Puerto Rico and he looked like a professional. He looked like Angel Cordero on a horse and I'm not BS-ing.”
The rider is 19-year-old Jorge Velez, who tacks about 108 pounds.
“He attended the jockey school for one year, but instead of staying there, he went to Cordero in New York for five months, but when he was about to get his license there, he fell from a horse and broke his collar bone and was out for five months. While there, he worked for Gary Contessa and Mark Hennig.
“He returned to Puerto Rico and decided to do a second year at the school. So instead of most apprentices, who only have two years at the school, he had two plus an extra five months with Angel Cordero teaching him personally in New York.”
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