Gavin Lerena jets off to Hong Kong in just over a month to defend his Longines International Jockeys’ Championship title at Happy Valley after a confidence boosting Charity Mile day on Saturday that saw him achieve the rare feat of riding a jackpot of feature race winners.
The 31 year old Lerena chatted to the Sporting Post and reflected on a day ‘where everything fell perfectly into place’.
He rode an extraordinary quartet of winners that started with a shock defeat in the Emperors Pace Ready To Run Cup of the fancied Africa Rising by Lucky Houdalakis’ Chili Con Carne, a facile victory by Philanthropist’s good daughter She’s A Giver in the Gr3 Starling Stakes, New Predator’s bold Charity Mile success – and then the heartstopper – a short head victory by the Captain Al colt Doosra in the Graham Beck Stakes.
This was no ordinary jackpot – none of his winners were short-priced ‘pointers’ and they were all feature races.
“This is a funny game. I always felt I had decent rides and that I would be competitive. But then on Friday I sat down and looked at the form of some of the others and it sunk in just what quality we were up against. But that is in the nature of a big day and I went racing determined to just do my best as I always do and keep a cool head. I was fortunate to be riding fit and decent horses, and we got into winning positions,” he said.
That sounds far too modestly simplistic after what we saw and we asked the quietly spoken 2014/15 SA champion to describe how it felt in those last few strides of the Graham Beck Stakes, that sealed the jackpot.
“I always felt that only greenness would beat Doosra. It is not easy for young horses on big days. The lights, the noise, the big screen. He did look at something and hesitated late. I showed him the stick and straightened him. He went on like the good horse we know he is and put his head down at the line.”
Gavin, whose agent Tommy Germanus plays a major role in his success, has earned himself a ‘big race’ tag over time and his five winners at the Vaal on Grand Heritage Day in early October demonstrated that he has matured with the necessary BMT required of a top jockey.
Gavin is leading the SA jockey log with R1 million more stakes in the bag than his nearest rival and has ridden 39 winners with a 21% win strike-rate this term.
He is lying in fifth position overall on the national log in terms of the championship barometer of wins – and acknowledges that he has some way to go to beat his 220 winners that saw him crowned champion.
He is lucky to enjoy the support of top stables – three of his winners on Saturday were for Johan Janse van Vuuren and the other for Lucky Houdalakis.
“The trainers and the owners make a major difference. I am riding top horses and they are ready to win. That makes a massive difference,” he says.
There was some happy irony when Gavin’s cousin, professional boxer Kevin, the SA cruiserweight and WBA Pan African title-holder, drew his mount New Predator in the Charity Mile.
“My Mom Avril is always looking at these little ‘signs’. She didn’t want to know about New Predator getting beat!”
Gavin said that his stint in Hong Kong earlier this year had been a valuable learning curve and he was looking forward to going back in December.
He suggested that any professional sportsman was only as good as the guidance and help they enjoyed from their support structures.
“’Good days and bad days, they are there for me. It makes a huge difference,” he said as he paid tribute to his family – interestingly both his Dad, Tex and wife, Victoria are former professional jockeys.
“They know what it takes, and together with my Mom and Sister – and my son Ashton – my entire family, in fact – I am a very lucky guy.”