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Gavin’s Sweet Life – By Chocolate!

4 weeks and 4kgs later - Gavin kom met die July ding!

Vodacom Durban July winning jockey Gavin Lerena permitted himself the decadent pleasure of two slices of the delicious Bar One and strawberry bedecked Death By Chocolate cake baked by his wife Vicky on Sunday as he blew out seven candles in a joyous, albeit belated, birthday celebration for his son Ashton.

Twenty four hours earlier the former SA Champion jockey went to scale at 53 kgs and figuratively earned the freedom of Durban – and the Cape Flats – with a polished professional ride to win the R2 million Gr1 Vodacom Durban July on the nationally popular people’s horse, Kommetdieding.

Death by chocolate – Lerena style

Gavin’s own 36th birthday celebration passed by with little fanfare on Friday, and he had avoided the temptation to weaken at Ashton’s seventh birthday party on Thursday.

While a disciplined approach to his chosen profession has meant that retired jockey Tex and Avril Lerena’s talented son has never had to fear the weight boogie man, he has also never forgotten the opportunity granted him nineteen years ago.

With his height and weight loaded against him, he gained admission to the SA Jockey Academy as an equestrian student.

Gavin and proud Dad Tex

Being a professional jockey far outweighed (excuse the pun) a future as a showjumper in the starry-eyed teenager’s eyes, and three months later the seventeen year old’s steely determination had not gone unnoticed as he became an apprentice jockey proper.

A rare pic of Gavin the showjumper (Ed – regret, not best quality)

July 2002 was the beginning of the Gavin Lerena rise to stardom. July 2021 saw the realisation of a career dream.

In shades of champion Garth Puller’s remarkable feat to famously shed 6kg to waste to 49kg when winning the Durban July aboard Bush Telegraph in 1987, the sub-plot of a memorable Vodacom Durban July fairytale success for owner Ashwin Reynolds and trainer Michelle Rix and her Dad, Harold Crawford, unfolded.

Gavin’s commitment to lose 4kgs in four weeks had worked. That enabled him to ride Kommetdieding at his allotted 53kgs in Saturday’s showcase. But it was no walk in the proverbial park.

“When I got the offer to ride at 53kgs, I bounced it off my good mate Devin Habib. He has gone through the trials and tribulations of coming back from 65kgs to ride again, and he gave me the inspiration to accept the challenge,” says Gavin as another bite of the Death By Chocolate cake paints a false moustache on his broad smile.

Gavin went to see Dr Cathy, the family’s medical doctor.

A DNA swab of his mouth followed and science and technology took over from that moment.

“I was allowed 800 calories a day, which I measured with one of the numerous apps available. And I cut out carbohydrates and sugar completely. Then the journey began.”

We asked if the discipline and temptation that shadowed his new diet regime had impacted on his mood.

“Strangely, not. I felt a sense of purpose and with the goal set – I always felt this was my big chance to win the July – I kept at it with my wife Vicky’s motivation and meticulous attention to detail with every meal preparation.”

Did he weigh himself every day?

“No, I only stood on the scale when I rode. The idea was that doing it every day was overkill and I never ever panicked.”

Gavin adds that the last two weeks of his journey to the July victory was the toughest.

“I had no more fat to lose, so that meant my only option was to cut muscle weight. On Dr Cathy’s guidance and advice, courtesy of my DNA profile, I lowered my protein and upped my vegetable intake.”

He points out that additional exercise was never an option.

“I stuck to my regular routine of riding work and walking. More exercise could have had the effect of bulking my muscle and that means additional weight. It’s a fine balance!”

A lean and mean Gavin arrived at Hollywoodbets Greyville on Saturday with five rides – and picked up a confidence booster when Desert Miracle won the Zulu Kingdom Explorer Gr2 Golden Slipper for his sponsors and trainer Mike de Kock.

Gavin is minutes away from achieving the dream (Pic – (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

Gavin has had numerous tilts at the big race and came closest on Rainbow Bridge, when second in 2019 and concedes that many of his July opportunities have been curtailed by his riding weight.

But the 2021 plan was unfolding and he felt an overwhelming sense of pride and determination when he saw Kommetdieding in the ring.

“I must mention Billy Jacobson who did all the work on Kommetdieding when I wasn’t at Summerveld. Michelle (Rix) had her champion looking a million dollars. I also knew there was an extra burden of emotions and dreams riding with me and felt that I had to make it a big moment for their team, the public, the connections and for my family,” he says as he tells how the 18 draw was always a blessing in disguise.

Power of the podium! (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

“He is a relatively young and inexperienced horse. I don’t think he would have coped at this stage with the hurly burly of being knocked about in the scrum. I knew I could keep him well out of trouble from the wide gate and ensure a clear passage all the way. My biggest focus after watching him in the Guineas and the Daily News 2000 was that I would need to conserve as much energy as possible for as long as was realistic.”

Gavin smiles when he tells how well things panned out.

“He was a professional for every stride. He relaxed early. I had envisaged following Do It Again through – but Kommetdieding started building from the 800m and at the 600m we were alongside Do It Again. I kept him there and we peeled off at the 450m and went for home as I realised I had the run of the race and this could be what I have been dreaming about for so long.”

The Wilgerbosdrift & Mauritzfontein sponsored rider says that his focus into the final 300m was to keep his mount’s mind on the job.

“He is just such a determined horse – a really good horse. Linebacker and Got The Greenlight were coming for us. But Kommetdieding kept answering my call. I feel his best season is ahead of him. He is going to be quite something as a 4yo.”

The rest is history and whatever happens in the next three weeks remaining of the season, Gavin says a frustrating season has turned out really well. And he has new resolve to maintain his riding weight at 55kgs – which opens new opportunities!

Victory is sweet! (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

“The jockey travel restrictions had me stuck in Durban and Cape Town at varying times for extended periods. When I eventually got back to Gauteng I found myself having to rebuild relationships But in the end just look at the lovely horses I have gotten to ride – Catch Twentytwo, Second Base, Copper Mountain, Desert Miracle  – and now Kommetdieding, to mention just a handful.”

He says that on the Sunday of the KZN Breeders raceday at Hollywoodbets Greyville a week prior to the July, he won the headline feature on Copper Mountain.

He was flying back to Joburg with trainer Johan Janse van Vuuren and owner Laurence Wernars and discussing the season.

“I said then that I was determined to ride a Gr1 winner before the end of the term. It feels like a dream come true.”

The cater past (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

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8 comments on “Gavin’s Sweet Life – By Chocolate!

  1. James Goodman says:

    Your Pedigree and perseverance are both exceptional. This was no easy “walk in the park” The horse looked held on collateral form and your brilliance got him home. The training was superb of both horse and rider. Most deserving winners all of you and enjoy your reward.

  2. Richard Taylor says:

    Gavin, you are a credit to your profession and your family. Losing the weight in the correct manner
    is vital in the long term, and the ride you gave the horse was exceptional. Michelle, Harold and Billy gave you the horse and my word you delivered the goods. Congratulations and hope you enjoyed the cake.

  3. Michael Jacobs says:

    This was a super professional performance all round! From the horse, the jockey, the trainer and the owner and all the other professionals involved in this great victory. There was a determination about that move made on the bend by Gavin. Horse and rider strode purposefully out wide staying out of everybody’s way and striding resolutely to the line. Even as the challenges came right and left, one always felt thar the horse was not going to be headed!

    This was the most exhilirating July win that I have enjoyed over the many years I have watched this great race! Congratulations to all the connections.

  4. Brendon says:

    The prep and the strategy of the connections of this brilliant thoroughbred, to win the most prestigious race in SA, was heading south until some genius suggested that Lerena be offered the pilot’s job. The decision to offer Lerena the mount four weeks before the race, considering the shedding that was requires, was a left field stroke of genius. Imo there is no better pilot on the Highveld than Lerena, when dealing with young progressive 3 year olds. His record over the past decade sets him apart from the competition when one looks at his track record in the WSB Dingaans for multiple stables.

    These are proud moments for all the connections, especially the Reynolds, Rix, Crawford and Lerena families. To conquer this race against such a strong and formidable opposition makes this accomplishment even sweeter for all the connections. Congrats to all concerned on a what appears to be a great team victory and hopefully we the racing public, especially the SPKWs, get to see a documentary on the journey of how KMDD and its connections in their quest to conquer the 125th running of the VDJ. Also, Squirrel and Covid deprived us of the mother of all celebrations after the running of this VDJ.

    PS. MJ ????????????????????. U get the bragging rights and the cash. Well done – just remember that we gave u the best pilot in the country to complete the job for the team.

    @ Mnr Pienaar, I’ve been in a straight jacket for the recent past and most likely for the rest of this year. It’s almost impossible to type and like most keyboard warriors, some keys on my keyboard are broken.

    Dayalan Moodley

  5. Gavin as an Apprentice. 1st December 2004 at the same Greyville track. His 1st triple wins at a race meeting. I was fortunate to be an owner of one of those winners. I’m sure Gavin has not forgotten that night meeting ????????????.
    All the best

  6. Cecil Pienaar says:

    Hello Brendon. Happy to see you’re still around. Agree with your post. Although I didn’t back KMDD for the win, what a lovely story. Happy for all involved

    Good Point on The Highveld Jock influence ????

    Take care, and next Post (later in the year) give us your views on The New Racing set up.

  7. DavidS says:

    Gavin your July ride rates up there with some of the best that i seen over 46 years of watching racing, and your commitment to reducing your weight says it all

    1. Editor says:

      David Safi

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