Guillermo “Willy” Figueroa, one of South Africa’s most popular jockeys, has retired from race riding. Figueroa, 56, has battled with a back injury incurred in a heavy fall about 18 months ago and this week decided to hang up his boots following medical advice.
Tex Lerena, Chairman of the South African Jockeys Association, told freeracer.co.za: “Figgy cracked two vertebrae in that fall and surgeons performed a procedure where they glued the vertebrae back together. But the area remained inflamed and painful and the latest advice was that he should not be risking further procedures at his age.”
Lerena added: “Figgy was a great rider, his record speaks for itself. He had a magic touch and was popular among his colleagues.”
Born in Peru, Figueroa started his career in 1972 and was never out of the top eight in his native country, winning all its major races. He visited South Africa on a busman’s holiday in May 1991, rode his first winner at Turffontein for the late Arthur Faul during his visit and was quickly in demand among the leading trainers. He never looked back and was seldom out of the Top 20 in his adopted country. He rode an estimated 2000 career winners.
Figueroa has fond memories of those early days and tells: “Trainer Ormond Ferraris gave me many good chances, he helped me to make my name and I will always be grateful to him.”
He won a host of feature races for Ormond and David Ferraris, including the 1992 SA Oaks on Daddy’s Darling and the 1994 Dingaans on Travel North and was associated with many of their top runners including Tracy’s Element, The Monk, De Los Rios, Simply Salmon, Sizzling Sun, Cholula and The Decagon.
Ormond Ferraris commented: “Figgy had horsemanship and we were very successful as a team. He had good balance, placed his mounts well and was a good judge of pace. When he gave his rides a tap with his stick they used to quicken well.”
Aside from his big wins for Ferraris, Figueroa won a number of South Africa’s major races, including the 2000 J&B Met on Badger’s Coast for Mike de Kock, the 2001 Summer Cup on Delta Form (De Kock), the 2004 SA Classic on Grand Emporium (Weiho Marwing), the 2006 SA Fillies Classic on Zaitoon (Marwing), two Emerald Cups on Hilti (2005) and Phunyka (2009) and more recently the Emperors Cup on Hollywoodboulevard for Charles Laird.
Figueroa will remain in South Africa and told freeracer.co.za: “When I wasn’t riding I never went to the track, but now I will. I won’t be a stranger.” He is married with three children and two grandchildren and said that a third grandchild was on the way.