guillermo willie figueroa aboard phunyuka in 2009 emerald cup
guillermo willie figueroa aboard phunyuka in 2009 emerald cup

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Guillermo “Willie” Figueroa aboard Phunyuka in the 2009 Emerald Cup

(Footage : SuperSport)



Andrew Harrison writes for Gold Circle that at the age of 54, there seems to be no end in sight to the career of Peruvian-born jockey Guillermo Figueroa.

Injury prone in recent years, there are still few better judges of pace around and “Willie the Wizard” drew on all his experience to land the R600 000 Emerald Cup aboard the Roy Magner-trained Phunyuka on the Vaal sand on Saturday.

Caught off the pace in the early stages as Renegade and Sandy Beach set an almost suicidal gallop, the 2007 Ready To Run graduate Phunyuka moved smoothly down the centre in the home stretch under a typical no-fuss ride from Figueroa to collar the leaders inside the 300m mark and then run on strongly to hold late challenges from outsider Fearless Gun and joint second favourite, and last year’s winner, Alimony with Sandy Beach staying on for fourth.

Phunyuka, a five-year-old gelding by Slew The Red and bred at champion breeders Summerhill Stud, is something of a sand specialist as all five of his victories have come on the Vaal surface. 

The field jumped smartly but Norquinco lost any chance he had as he became the meat in the sandwich shortly after the start and was badly cramped for galloping room as Sandy Beach cut across his bows from his outside draw.

Phunyuka was well enough out of the gate but Figueroa was hard at him to hold his early position.

“The pace was very fast, said Figueroa in his dodgy English post race. “I had to ride a little to keep position. But the horse relaxed and I came on slowly, slowly from the 500m.” The challenge was short lived, however, and Phunyuka, under a hands and heels ride from Figueroa simple cruised into the lead with a furlong to run. Fearless Gun and Alimony made up quick ground on his inside but Phunyuka responded to the challenge and won rather comfortably.

“He’s a real street fighter,” said Roy Magner in the winner’s enclosure. “My goodness they went fast. Lucky’s (Houdalakis) horse came alongside and he kept on fighting. He’s a very good sand horse.”

Owner Wally Brits, was philosophical about the win. “All the hype was about Charlie Laird’s horse but we beat him fair and square. “Galahad’s a champion and we probably wouldn’t beat him at level weights, but handicapping is handicapping.”

“Figgy said before the race that if you’ve got him the same (as he was when beating Galahad at his last start) then he’ll definitely win. What more can I say.”