GAVIN Lerena’s successful weekend at the Turffontein was rounded off when he watched Arrogate winning the Gr1 Dubai World Cup on Saturday evening. He told Turf Talk on Sunday: “Having ridden at Meydan I know how bad that kickback on the sand track can be. To do what Arrogate did was quite astounding!”
Given the 31-year-old’s own talent, chances are fair that he’ll sit on a few superstars himself as his career progresses, here or elsewhere in the world. For now however, he is focused on regaining the SA Jockeys’ Title he lost to S’Manga Khumalo last season.
Lerena is seven winners clear of Greg Cheyne after his Saturday treble, some way to go still to safety because the Cape-based Cheyne has been a tenacious competitor this season, so it’s a question of picking the right rides as well as relying on continued support from the leading upcountry trainers.
One selected ride was Champagne Haze, winner of Saturday’s Gr2 Senor Santa Stakes over 1160m for the in-form stable of Gary Alexander. Lerena said: “With Andrew Fortune out for a while this ride became available. I’d ridden him once before over 1800m, he gave me a nice feel and I was impressed with the way he’d won a 1200m on the inside track in January.
“I thought he’d be a good mount for me in the Senor Santa but I had to come down from 57 to 56kg to ride him. It was worthwhile. There was a tailwind, so the way Champagne Haze picked up the pace-setters and ran on by was impressive.”
Three –year-old Pagoda was so impressive in winning the Listed Derby Trail over 2000m for Geoff Woodruff and his connections that Lerena regards this gelding by Mogok as his SA Derby choice, at this stage.
He commented: “Pagoda is the type of horse who will get better and better. Mr Woodruff didn’t give me instructions, just told me that Pagoda likes to run at horses. I watched his replays, he comes from off them and gets up, but this time he ran right past the others, got away and started looking around, appeared a bit green. He has more wins coming.”
The first leg of Lerena’s treble was smart Brazuca (AUS), who kicked butt properly in the Gr2 Colorado King Stakes over 2000m, another top class win this season for the Wernars family and trainer Johan Janse Van Vuuren, who continues to impress with the way he points his runners and turns them out for a big day.
There have been worries over time that the son of Teofilio was perhaps limited to 1800m, but he dispelled that once and for all with a dominating display over the toughest 2000 in the land, beating Deo Juvente and `French Navy without raising much of a sweat.
Brazuca flashed home three lengths clear and Lerena said: “I also had some reservations about the distance, but he won a super race, quickened right away and enjoyed it. I think Johan had him tuned to the minute for this race. He didn’t enjoy his spell in the Cape in December in January and had to be rushed a bit into his mile prep, but he’s come on beautifully since them. They have the Durban July as a possible target. On the way he won here, the Greyville 2200m could be the ideal course and distance for him.”
Lerena added about Janse Van Vuuren: “He is top class, runs a good operation with a good team behind him. I go out there once a week to ride some quality when I’m needed, but Randall Simons and Hennie Greyling are there almost every day so as a team we have a good thing going. We have a good understanding, I enjoy riding for the stable.”
Lerena said that he will always be considering opportunities overseas, but that with four months to go of the 2016/17 season, getting the National title back is foremost in his mind. Race-riding keeps him fit, he has to shed a pound after suspensions, like recently but his weight, and his mind, is in control. “I’ve tried running and swimming but I tend to put on muscle when I do that. Now, I just ride and walk.”
And, hopefully, he stays away from the tempting dishes at his parents’ Johannesburg restaurant!
Photos supplied by JC Photos.