Gavin Lerena’s UK diary

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Gavin Lerena: London – A thoroughly enjoyable return home to ride in the Rising Sun Gold Challenge (Grade 1) at Greyville just over a week ago, ended with a nice double on Sunday at Turffontein for trainers Tony Nassif and Paul Peter.

It was good to catch up with my family and the owners and trainers I ride for in South Africa. Everyone was very welcoming.

By the time I touched down in London early last Monday morning it seemed I’d been halfway around the world. It really was nonstop, with the “red-eye” to Johannesburg, the flight to Durban and back, and race riding on the Saturday and Sunday.

I landed at Heathrow airport feeling a bit frustrated at how things were going in the UK and came within a short head of packing it in, retracing my steps back home and taking the shot at regaining the jockeys’ title.

But having slept on it, driven to Windsor Racecourse past the scenic Windsor Castle and riding a nice second for Amanda Perrett on a horse called Open Wide who wants 1200m, I decided to stick it out – and I’m glad I did.

Last Tuesday, the show rolled on to a lovely country track at Salisbury. There has been racing at Salisbury since the mid-16th century and the racecourse has a lovely relaxed atmosphere and a welcoming feel. Famous jockey Lester Piggott first rode in public at Salisbury at the tender age of 12 and I look forward to riding there again, despite having no luck with my two mounts up the straight course.

It’s difficult not to get enamored with the English countryside and the sheer history that envelops you wherever you go. So, after the races, I decided to take the quick 15 minute drive to explore one of the wonders of the world and the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe: the famous Stonehenge. I laughed when my mother said the only Stonehenge she would ever get to see is Sean Tarry’s pacemaker!

Last Wednesday evening I took the 2½-hour drive to Newmarket Racecourse in Suffolk with my wife Vikki and son Ashton. Newmarket is often referred to as the headquarters of British horseracing (HQ) and is home to what is probably the largest cluster of training yards in the country. We stayed at the beautifully elegant house at Abington Place Stables, owned by Mary Slack and home to Mike de Kock’s UK team.

Abington Place and Abington Place Stables are over 100 years old and have been listed by the statutory bodies of the UK as a building of very special, historical interest. It’s evident to see why this is the case and it’s a privilege staying there and catching up with my South African friends.

The following morning I rode out for Sir Michael Stoute at his Freemason Lodge yard on the Bury Road. Sir Michael is a real character who lists the Queen among his owners and his record goes before him as one of the great trainers of all time, winning races all over the globe.

After I rode first lot up Long Hill he kindly drove me to the various gallops and provided an educational guided tour of the excellent facilities at HQ. While there, I bumped into trainer Michael Bell, who I’d ridden out for the previous week. He is a charming and engaging person and I greatly enjoyed chatting with him.

After work, the family and I travelled the two hours on to Newbury, which is on the doorstep of our quaint country cottage just outside Lambourn. Interestingly, this racecourse was used a prisoner-of-war camp for German prisoners during World War 1.

This is a very fair track and my horse for trainer Heather Main, Fair Selene, ran a super race to place third, staying on very well in the final 100m – even after giving me the impression she was beaten at the 200m pole. The park that fronts on to the racecourse was a sight to behold for Ashton, who enjoyed a play session before we visited a first-class Lebanese restaurant in the town centre and feasted on hummus and meze, the taste of home.

Last Friday I rode work at the West Ilsley stables of Mick Channon followed by my first visit to Sandown Park for three rides for Amanda Perrett. Sandown is a beautiful track and it made a nice change to compete on the round course on all three horses. The first, Artful Rogue, started as a 33-1 “roughie” but ran a tremendous race to finish second, doing all his best work up the final hill. I’d won for the same owners on Arch Villain at the Shergar Cup and Zzorro on the Newmarket Rowley course. They seemed very happy and having Vikki and Ashton cheering me on topped off a lovely day bathed in warm sunshine.

Looking forward to Royal Ascot this week and I’ll certainly be getting kitted out. I have three rides so far – Barrington for the Chelsea Thoroughbred syndicate on Wednesday in the Jersey Stakes over the stiff 1400m straight.

On the same day I’m absolutely delighted to be riding Same Jurisdiction for South Africa and in the famous silks of Gaynor Rupert’s Drakenstein Stud. She will be running in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes over 1600m. South Africa is represented with another super mare Smart Call in the same race.

On Saturday I have one ride on the fifth and final day of Royal Ascot. In the Chesham Stakes for two-year-olds I ride a horse I ran a good third on at Goodwood over 1200m, Bartholomeu Dias. He should enjoy the step up in trip to 1400m. This horse is also quite close to home – he is by Mount Nelson, and Dias was a famous navigator who was the first European to sail around the southern tip of Africa.

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