Flirting with fire?

Turffontein 9 August

To the line. Gavin Lerena rode a great double, but...

Jockey Gavin Lerena enjoyed a nice double at Turffontein on Women’s Day 9 August.  Despite the joy and smiles, his win on the Erico Verdonese-trained Titano in the seventh race warrants a relook by the Stipendiary Stewards as the Doowaley gelding was patently not ridden all the way to the line.

We are not out for Lerena’s blood and have no issue with the young man. Even though he has been in the news recently with a shocker of a ride on Flirtation in the Durban July. But today was a different time and a new day. It is, though, about doing the right thing and curbing potential bad habits. Top jockey Kevin Shea went through a similar confidence patch a few years ago when he habitually geared down at the line.

Phumelela made a commendable effort to brighten up the public holiday horseracing by getting the lovely Julie Alexander to act as an oncourse presenter for our racing channel. Despite that, it is difficult to imagine anybody wanting to take his wife or mom to that part of Johannesburg and on a day when the racing was competitive, but lacking substance.

It is bad enough when a horse that should have won gets caught late for lack of perserverance and overconfidence by a jockey. Hard-earned public money is running  on racing and the connections also need to know that their horse will be given every chance. That, thankfully, was not the issue today.Titano actually won. He came through down the middle inside and hit the front 250m from home. He skipped clear and was looking to run away from his opponents and win easily when Lerena dropped his hands, gave him a congratulatory smack down the neck and let him coast in the final 25m. This soft approach allowed Millenium Wind to get within one length of him, while the one-paced Mantosh stayed on to finish within a flattering 1,5 lengths of the winner.

Most punters study form when making their selections. This includes the measurables of distance, weight, lengths behind(or won by) and time. Subsequent merit ratings allocated by the handicapper are naturally also of consequence. Unfortunately jockey Lerena did us no favours by unwittingly skewing the race time and the winning margin. We assume, and hope, that the handicapper will look closely at the race itself in this instance and not just the flattering one length winning margin. If the merit ratings are allocated on paper statistics alone, there could be a problem.

Looking at two of Lerena’s other rides on the afternoon, he ran second on the favourite Amatol in the fifth race, when conclusively beaten by Weichong Marwing on Wildest Dream. Once again Lerena went quiet in the final meters of the race when looking assured of a second place and almost allowed Super Red and Hennie Greyling to snatch second place away. It was very close, but he got away with it.  His ride on the winner of the last race, Elmswood, was flawless as he hit the front in the final stages and rode the Al Mufti gelding all the way to the line. So there are no excuses.

World-Class. Weichong Marwing rode two winners and has settled in.

Weichong Marwing recently returned from a riding stint in Hong Kong and he also rode a double on the day, declaring afterwards that he was ‘getting the hang of the going’. He said that the surface was very hard and that horses were not making up ground. After winning the sixth race on Wildest Dream  for world traveller Mike Azzie (the trainer is apparently cruising in the vicinity of Croatia), he cleverly changed tactics on the Gary Alexander Malhub mare Mastende. She took it up early to stay on well and record a third win from 22 starts.

Marthinus Mienie was the third jockey on the day to ride a double, when  he grabbed the first two races on the card for the high-riding Paul Matchett yard.  The Black Minnaloushe gelding Mini Black ran right away from his opposition in the first race, and was a welcome first winner for Larence Pillay, who owns him in partnership. Matchett explained afterwards that the headband had worked wonders and prevented the naughty gelding from rearing in the stalls. The Matchett coupling Manchurian Tiger and Magnum Power fought out the final 300m of the second race, with the Crabbia-owned Australian bred Magnum Power gaining the upper hand late. He is a colt that will stay on as he matures and he looks to have nice potential.

So a fair afternoon’s entertainment. But let’s hope that the NHRA do something about our jockeys dropping their hands and playing russian roulette with our fragile minds and bank balances.

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