Figueroa rides Uncle Sam to Pot O' Gold (w/ gallery)

By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editorMay 9, 2011 

KENNEWICK -- Sometimes a kid just needs a break to make something big happen.

Jose Antonio Figueroa got his chance Sunday in the $30,000 Pot O'Gold Futurity.

Figueroa stepped in for an injured Jesse Chavis and rode Uncle Sam Sweetfly to victory at Sun Downs in the meet's biggest race.

Chavis had injured his wrist Saturday when he fell off a horse and was unable to ride Sunday.

Uncle Sam Sweetfly's trainer, Kennewick's Mike DeMatteis, needed someone to ride this horse -- a pretty good sprinter at that.

"He gets jumpy and spooky, but he makes a trainer look good," said DeMatteis.

The horse had finished third in its Pot O'Gold trial race two weeks ago, and had a bloody nose after that run.

"We haven't done anything with him for two weeks," said DeMatteis.

Owner Cedric Hayden and DeMatteis considered flying in a jockey for this race. But eventually they got to Figueroa.

"He's a good kid, a hard worker," said DeMatteis. "He's the one who has galloped the colt. I didn't sleep all night. Then I thought about Jose."

Figueroa, he said, rode the horse more than anyone and knew him better than anyone.

"This is my first big race," said Figueroa. "It was a clean break at the gate. I saw my horse go in (to the left). But nobody was there. (Mike) told me before the race to keep yelling at the horse. No whipping."

"I said to just scream at him and he'll run like a scared rabbit," DeMatteis added.

Uncle Sam Sweetfly exploded from the gate and kept favorite Warnock -- starting next to him -- from getting out in front.

Warnock and rider Tyson Lusk charged hard at the end, but Uncle Sam Sweetfly finished just in front.

Handlers for Warnock asked for an inquiry after the race, making for some tense moments. DeMatteis had to sit down and wait it out.

Finally the race was ruled good, and the celebration began.

"The biggest strength this horse has is my kids, ages 12 to 14, raised him in our barn," said Hayden.

It has other strengths.

"Fast horses make any trainer," DeMatteis said. "I just make sure they are OK."

And everyone associated with the track felt great for Figueroa.

"Jose has been here every day, early, ready to workout anyone's horses," said Sun Downs racing secretary Shorty Martin. "This is great. He's such a hard-working kid."

The day's other big race, the $24,300 AQHA Meriel/Distaff Challenge Finals, was won by Shes First Down and Lusk.

The horse, owned by William Thompson and trained by Brett Vickery, broke cleanly from the gate, then held off hard-charging favorite Sheza Bad Habit and rider Paul Greene at the finish line, winning by a nose and covering the 400 yards in 20.03 seconds.

"She broke very solid from the gate," said Lusk, who flew in from Rexburg, Idaho, to ride this weekend. "I could feel the 6 horse (Sheza Bad Habit) coming on. I was just hoping to hang on."

Sheza Bad Habit actually won this race last year, qualifying for the finals in New Orleans later in the fall. Now Shes First Down gets a crack at the finals this fall at Los Alamitos.

Despite missing Sunday's action, Chavis had enough victories under his belt to be named the top jockey of the meet.

"You always strive to be the leading rider of the meet," said Chavis. "This is awesome. My first leading rider belt buckle."

Then he pointed at trainer Kurt Calton, who was named the top trainer of the meet for quarterhorses.

"I couldn't have done it without this guy," said Chavis. "Half of my wins came from him, because he has me ride for him."

And both thanked Bob and Scott Giltner for allowing them to work for them.

Kennewick's Lynn Homer was named the meet's top thoroughbred trainer.

A good crowd of around 2,000 came out for possibly the final meet ever at Sun Downs, wagering a handle of $64,793.

The Tri-City Horse Racing Association board was euphoric.

"It was awesome," said member Nancy Sorick of the meet. "'I've been coming here since 1968 and this is the best I've seen. It was a good handle, good people and good weather."

Now the question is whether the Washington State Horse Racing Commission can find enough money for next year to help the TCHRA run the meet.

"If we can do it next year," said TCHRA board member Cliff Schellinger, "we will."

* Trey Fecta lost $45.50 Sunday, bringing the season bankroll down to $274.90 after starting with an imaginary bankroll of $300.

Sunday's results

FIRST - DeMatteis Racing Stable Special, TB clm $2,000, 3YO&Up not won a race in 2011, Purse $1,500, 4 furlongs: 7. Sultana's Secret 3.60, 2.60, 2.20. 5. Totally Brilliant 3.80, 3.20. 2. Amazing Feat 3.80. EX (7-5) 7.80, QU 12.90, TRI (7-5-2) 157.40. T -- :46.1.

SECOND - Pot O'Gold Futurity Consolation, 2YO that qualified 11th-20th in time trials, Purse $3,439, 300 yards: 3. Deniro 3.60, 3.20, 2.40. 6. Smr Bronte 6.80, 3.20. 2. Chitchattin Memories 3.00. DD (7-3) 9.00, EX (3-6) 24.00, QU 26.10, TRI (3-6-2) 45.80. T - 15.44.

THIRD - TB clm $3200, 3YO&Up, Purse $1,700, 4 furlongs: 3. Honour the West 3.80, 3.60, 2.60. 2. Swiss Ace 7.20, 4.40. 6. Relaunch Louie 3.20. EX (3-2) 39.80, QU 41.40, TRI (3-2-6) 278.40, Superfecta (3-2-6-All) 58.90. T -- :46.0.

FOURTH - Horse Heaven Gallery Special, QH alw, 3YO&Up never won 3 races, Purse $1,700, 300 yards: 7. Nastoli 4.80, 3.20, 3.00. 9. Real Queen Like It 4.80, 4.20. 8. Bh Country Cutie 3.20. EX (7-9) 24.60, QU 43.20, TRI (7-9-8) 285.60, T - 15.57.

FIFTH - TB clm $3200, Fillies and Mares 3YO&Up, Purse $1,700, 4 furlongs: 2. Skimmed 7.40, 2.80, 2.60. 4. Slews Fancy 2.40, 2.60. 5. Flying Squirrel 2.60. EX (2-4) 7.80, QU 5.40, TRI (2-4-5) 33.60. T - 46.0.

SIXTH - QH alw, 3YO&Up, Purse $1,800, 770 yards: 7. Yin Your Eyes 4.20, 3.20, 3.00. 1. Hasta Be Hawkin 3.80, 4.00. 5. Carry On Cappy 4.00. EX (7-1) 12.80, QU 10.50, TRI (7-1-5) 193.20, Superfecta (7-1-5-3) 221.90. T - 40.12.

SEVENTH - Malon and Lola Cowgill Special, TB clm $3200, Fillies and Mares 3YO&Up, Purse $1,700, 6 furlongs: 2. Sea Starlet 23.40, 8.60, 3.20. 1. Tiff Tivy Tiff 3.40, 2.60. 5. Arizona Diamond 2.80. EX (2-1) 104.00, QU 30.30, TRI (2-1-5) 357.80. T - 1:14.4.

EIGHTH - Pot O'Gold Futurity, 2YO that qualified through time trials, Purse $30,611, 300 yards: 8. Uncle Sam Sweetfly 16.20, 17.20, 6.00. 7. Warnock 7.00, 3.60. 1. The Streakin Clean 2.40. EX (8-7) 293.40, QU 102.90, TRI (8-7-1) 827.20. T - NA.

NINTH - Wildhorse Au Revoir Handicap, Horses that started at this meet, Purse $3,250, 6 ? furlongs: 2. Saratoga's Magic 17.20, 6.20, 2.80. 6. Want the Facts 7.40, 3.40. 1. Skiing Chumaree 2.80. EX (2-6) 79.20, QU 54.30, TRI (2-6-1) 244.40. T - 1:21.

TENTH - AQHA Merial/Distaff Challenge Finals, Fillies and Mares 3YO&Up that qualified in time trials, Purse $24,300, 400 yards: 3. Shes First Down 23.60, 5.80, 3.60. 6. Sheza Bad Habit 3.20, 2.80. 5. Lds Patty Ann 3.40. EX (3-6) 44.00, QU 24.30, TRI (3-6-5) 87.00, Superfecta (3-6-5-All) 51.70, DD (2-3) 71.20. T - 20.03.

Total handle -- $64,793.

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