GAVIN Lerena’s family drove out to the Vaal on Saturday to support him after his six-week  “sick leave” and they were rewarded with three winners and two places from only six rides as the former champion made a resounding comeback.

Lerena had been suffering from the Epstein-Barr virus which counts severe fatigue among its symptoms, but said he felt fine and healthy a little while after his first ride back and a few hours later, when the meeting had concluded.

He told Turf Talk: “I’ve been gymming and sprinting hard on the road to keep in shape and to retain a level off fitness, but nothing can really prepare you for race riding itself. I felt it in my chest after winning on Twice A Lady. I was blowing.”

Candice Dawson-trained Twice A Lady had to be driven along to keep going late and Lerena said: “Thanks to Candice for putting me on, I was going to ride her first time out.”

He made it a quick double on Robbie Sage’s Greenwood Drive in Race 3 over 2000m and commented: “He was pulling over a mile last time and enjoyed the extra. He’s a nice horse, he relaxed today and will win again.”

He completed the treble on Geoff Woodruff’s Secret Potion (Race 4) and said: “This filly stepped up a division-and-a-half in class so her win was meritorious.”

Lerena’s travels in the UK last season afforded Anthony Delpech a great opportunity to win the 2016/17 National Title and Delpech is some 40 winners ahead of him on the 2017/18 jockeys’ table.

Lerena said: “That’s a mountain to climb so I’m not going to be title-chasing. For now I will be focusing on the big races coming up in the Highveld Autumn, I’m really looking forward to them.”

He concluded: “I loved having my whole family on track today including my mother Avril, who hardly ever comes racing. She was a good luck charm today!”

Photo: Gavin Lerena with dad Tex holding his son Ashton, and next to him, mother Avril. Equine Behavious Therapist Malan du Toit is at the back, Candice Dawson inside right (JC Photos).