JOCKEY Gavin Lerena was perhaps the only form student in the country who gave six-year-old gelding Forest Fox a realistic winning chance in Saturday’s Vaal Grand Heritage over 1475m, providing form students with what should be a customary reminder every few weeks:  Always consider the merits of every horse in a race, no matter how clear-cut the appearance of the race!

The Grand Heritage was by no means a foregone conclusion – at least 10 of the 28 contestants held winning chances on recent showings – but a six-year-old gelding by an unfashionable stallion with generally average form would have been ignored by most.

Forest Fox was indeed unfancied in the market, with 16s, 18s and 20-1 available before the off and, observed from a position on the grandstand deck, there were a few punters who got hugely excited when his yellow silks flashed up late to win, thinking it was the more fancied Sean Tarry runner Social Order (same silks), who had come through to win it!

The connections of Forest Fox with RA CEO Larry Wainstein on the right.
The connections of Forest Fox with RA CEO Larry Wainstein on the right.

But soon it filtered through that it was in fact the astute Lerena who had won his second successive Grand Heritage, this time on an outsider. As that all too familiar bitter, losing feeling threatened to take hold, one had to remember Lerena’s comments to Sporting Post earlier in the week. For ignoring them, we need a serious session of self-flaggelation, Opus Dei style!

Lerena, who had walked the track and carefully assessed the form of the race, said: “… a combination of judgement, intuition, good fortune and obviously the right horse under you will mean that you need to be in the right place at the right time.

“Forest Fox is a versatile horse and will strip fit on the day. We also carry a handy galloping weight and so it’s up to me to get him into the right position. I will definitely be looking to try and have him in the centre of the track so that we can pounce and make our move when the time is right. He has the ability to run a big race, and I’m not tipping anybody else to win it!”

Serious comments not to be ignored, and yet most of us did! At least there was the hard-to-include St John Gray runner Captain Aldo who’d stuck us properly in the poorhouse earlier, so the second blow wasn’t as heavy as it could have been.

Lerena told that his wife Vikki had him on a juice diet for the past week to ensure he could ride at 56.5kg and he said: “Forest Fox came good at this time last year. He nearly won the Heritage Consolation, then did win a race a few weeks later. It’s a handicapper’s race, so you need a horse in decent form that has the finish to get you home.”

In-form trainer Paul Peter, who had produced his charge in top shape, commented: “I’m delighted he’s done it for these special owners – Hassen Adams, Bernard Kantor, the Nassif brothers and Hyperpaint. They haven’t put me under any pressure. He’s not a horse with the biggest heart, he doesn’t always go on with it. He needs a specific type of ride, and Gavin gives him that.”

Peter gave credit to his son Tony who had suggested several months ago that the Grand Heritage would be a good target for the son of Dupont.

As for the race day itself, it’s never easy to stay positive when you’ve been taken to the cleaners by outsiders, but in all fairness it was a bright, colourful day, well attended and with all facility rooms packed and everyone clearly enjoying themselves. The food laid on was excellent.

The Grand Heritage holds promise for the future – something to consider is getting the actual race action a bit closer to the grandstand, or to get the spectators closer to the track. Even from a good position on the deck the action seemed, “way out there… too far away for a novelty race of this nature”.  The stampede started a distance away and one only had an inkling of was going on when they were 100m away from the line.

One solution could be to place the big screen, or two screens, in front of the grandstand and not way out at the 200m mark, and to use American-style camera angles covering the event from all perspectives. And, for once, they can switch that fake crowd soundtrack on and get some thundering hooves into the mix.