04/07/2002 11:00PM

New guy dealing hot hand


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Wednesday's co-features at Bay Meadows have one common denominator. Hot new apprentice rider Omar Figueroa has a mount in each.

In the first race, a $25,000 claimer at six furlongs, Figueroa will ride Court's In Session for one-time Eclipse Award-winning apprentice Wesley Ward. In the seventh race, a one-mile turf race for maidens, Figueroa will ride Southern California shipper Military Academy for Patrick Gallagher.

Figueroa is tied for second in the Bay Meadows jockey standings with Ron Warren Jr. and Frank Alvardo. Each has five wins, two behind pacesetter Jason Lumpkins's seven.

Figueroa, an 18-year-old native of Puerto Rico, has 54 victories in his brief riding career that began last summer at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. He recorded his first victory in his third ride.

Shortly after that, he broke a shoulder when a horse he was working ducked into the rail. He returned home to recuperate but came back to ride at The Meadowlands and Philadelphia Park when he healed.

Miguel Espindola, a former northern California rider, told agent Mark North about Figueroa and helped convince Figueroa to move to California, where business has been booming.

"I was doing well, but they said if I'd come here, I'd get business," Figueroa said.

"He looks really good on a horse," North said. "He's got a good seat, good hands, and a good head. He's a total professional, a class act."

North said many of his friends, such as John Martin, for whom Figueroa scored his first win in northern California, have helped him by providing live mounts.

Figueroa has already ridden a horse for leading trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, finishing second. He is named to another Hollendorfer trainee Thursday.

Bill Morey Jr. put Figueroa on comebacking Sensational Guy, who finished third. Before the race, Morey said, "He did work a couple horses for me and seems to be a good fellow. I've had a couple other exercise riders tell me to keep an eye on the kid, that he might be okay."

Figueroa, who admits he is "surprised" that he has already ridden such good horses, grew up watching races and said his best attribute as a rider is a "good head."

He also believes he is good at getting horses to relax.

"You have to get a horse relaxed," he said. "When they're more relaxed, they run for you."

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