07/07/2004 11:00PM

Figueroa trying to keep horse, rider relaxed


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The simplicity of jockey Omar Figueroa's strategy on Yessirgeneralsir in Saturday's $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup may prevent him from getting a case of post-time jitters.

The Gold Cup will be the richest race that Figueroa has ridden, but he is very familiar with his mount, the front-running Yessirgeneralsir, an invader from Texas.

On May 31, Figueroa, 20, scored a career milestone, winning his richest race aboard Yessirgeneralsir in the $300,000 Lone Star Handicap at Lone Star Park.

Saturday, Yessirgeneralsir is expected to set the pace in the Gold Cup, run over 1 1/4 miles.

"I won't really be nervous," Figueroa said.

Figueroa gained the ride on Yessirgeneralsir in April after several other jockeys turned down trainer Dallas Keen in the spring.

Keen wanted a jockey for the Grade 3 Texas Mile at Lone Star Park on April 24 and turned to a California-based jockey's agent, Tony Matos, for advice. Matos represents Victor Espinoza and Javier Santiago, both of whom were engaged that day on the California Gold Rush program at Hollywood Park. But Matos suggested Figueroa, whom he had known and followed for a few years.

"When I called Tony, I said, 'I think this is the best horse I've ever trained,' " Keen said. "When Omar showed up, he was a likeable guy with a positive attitude. He looks good on a horse, and he's got a nice set of hands."

Figueroa guided Yessirgeneralsir to a third-place finish in the Texas Mile over a sloppy track. In the Lone Star Park Handicap over 1 1/16 miles, Yessirgeneralsir led throughout and scored by 2 1/4 lengths.

"The last time he ran well," Figueroa said. "He liked the fast track."

Keen said he did not consider sacking Figueroa and replacing him with a more prominent rider for the Gold Cup.

"It wouldn't have been the right thing to do," Keen said. "Early on, we tried to get some top riders to ride him and they didn't want to give us the time of day."

Yessirgeneralsir has won 3 of 8 starts and $252,555 for owner-breeder Jim Jackson. He beat maidens last year, but was sidelined to have six bone chips removed from his knees, Keen said.

Keen was convinced he had a stakes-caliber horse when Yessirgeneralsir won a first-condition allowance race over a mile and 40 yards by 10 lengths at Fair Grounds March 4.

"He exploded in the stretch," Keen said. "It gave you goose bumps to watch it."

At that point, he began searching for a rider for the major stakes at Lone Star Park.

Figueroa began his career at Monmouth Park in New Jersey and moved to northern California in late 2002. At one point, he was sidelined for six months with a broken wrist and collarbone.

Figueroa moved to Southern California in April. Through Thursday, he had eight wins in 93 starts at the Hollywood meeting.

Despite his confidence, Figueroa knows Yessirgeneralsir is trying 1 1/4 miles for the first time.

"He's naturally fast," Figueroa said. "I'll try to relax my horse as much as I can so he can get 1 1/4 miles. I've got a good chance."

Valenzuela hearing delayed

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela will appear before Hollywood Park stewards next Thursday for a hearing concerning his suspension for failing to submit to a hair follicle test on July 2.

A hearing had been tentatively scheduled for Friday but was delayed because of schedule conflicts for the participants, including a deputy attorney general who will represent the California Horse Racing Board, according to Mike Marten, a spokesman for the board.

Valenzuela was suspended by the Hollywood stewards for failing to comply with the terms of his conditional license, which requires that he submit to a hair follicle test.

The suspension came one day after Valenzuela returned from a 30-day suspension for failing to submit to a mandatory urine test in January.

Valenzuela, 41, said last weekend that he was unable to take the hair follicle test because he had fully shaved his body and could not provide the necessary sample.

Breeze for Pleasantly Perfect

Pleasantly Perfect, unraced since winning the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 27, worked seven furlongs 1:27.20 at Santa Anita on Thursday. Trained by Richard Mandella, he is being prepared for a start in the $250,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 1.

"It was kind of a long breeze," Mandella said of the workout. "He'll have a stronger one next week. He couldn't be better."

Must wins for Star Parade

Star Parade needs wins in races such as Sunday's $250,000 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap to remain a candidate for the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30.

"I don't think it's out of the question," trainer Darrell Vienna said of the Distaff. "She would need to be on top of her game."

Owned by Gary Tanaka, the Argentine-bred Star Parade must be supplemented to the Breeders' Cup. She has already won a Grade 1 this year in the Santa Maria Handicap, but is winless in her last three starts, including a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap here on May 9. She disputed the lead on the backstretch, but faded to finish 3 1/2 lengths behind Victory Encounter.

A win on Sunday would help finance the supplement to the BC Distaff.

The Milady is run over 1 1/16 miles and may have only five runners. Aside from Star Parade, the probable starters are Quero Quero, Pesci, Tangle, and Victory Encounter.

Another guaranteed $1 million

For the second consecutive Saturday, Hollywood Park has guaranteed the pick six pool will reach $1 million.

Last weekend, the pool reached $1,005,489 after the first leg, the day's fifth race, was delayed for four minutes.

Saturday's pick six covers the fifth through 10th races, which includes the three stakes on the program: the Gold Cup, the A Gleam Handicap, and the Swaps Stakes.