Peter and Lerena rule the Vaal

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Peter and Lerena rule the Vaal

FOREST FOX beats CLASSIFY

Trainer Paul Peter was king of the Vaal on Saturday when he led Forest Fox into the winner’s enclosure after the World Sports Betting Grand Heritage – the remarkable new marquee race of the riverside course.

The thrilling victory over a daunting 26 adversaries down the 1475m straight course was Peter’s third winner of the day and the crowning glory of a period of hot form for the Turffontein conditioner.

It wasn’t plain sailing for Forest Fox (16-1) and jockey Gavin Lerena. Port Elizabeth raider Classify (20-1), trained by Dorrie Sham and ridden by Francois Herholdt, put up a tremendous fight and only conceded by 0.40 lengths in the end.

Starrett City (44-1), unfancied among Geoff Woodruff’s trio of runners, hung on for third place about a length further back, after scooting clear of the pack entering the final 400m and looking dangerous. Yet another outsider, Morpheus (45-1), grabbed fourth place for Scott Kenny.

Bookmakers’ ante-post favourite Elevated (17-2) and tote favourite Secret Captain (10-1) never looked like emerging from the massed ranks of the cavalry charge down the Vaal turf and finished 12th and 14th respectively.

If Peter was king for a day, jockey Gavin Lerena was certainly a prince – grabbing his second successive Grand Heritage trophy, after having booted home Irish Pride in last year’s inaugural running of the R750,000 Non-Black Type event.

Lerena finished his day with a flourish by giving Kilconnel Lass (61-10) a peach of a ride in Race 9.

Lerena confessed after the Grand Heritage that he’d had a hard time deciding what to ride among a fair number of hopefuls at his beckon call, but eventually opted for six-year-old gelding Forest Fox – even after Peter suggested that he rather partner stablemate Maximizer.

His rationale for choosing the horse with a record of four wins from 34 runs? “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.”

The former South African champion revealed that his wife had him on a juice diet for the past week to ensure he could ride at 56.5kg.

Flush with his treble and big-race triumph, Peter gave credit to his son Tony who suggested three months ago that the yard target the Grand Heritage meeting and its attractive purses. The trainer also heaped praise and thanks on his staff, admitting that he is a hard task-master and runs his operation “like a military base”.

Of Forest Fox, he said: “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 kicked off his big day in Race 3 with first-timer Promise delivering the first shock of several at the meeting by powering through at 25-1.

Then Peter’s three-year-old charge Pera Palace dealt a body blow to punters as he scorched to victory in Race 6, the Sophomore 1000 (Non-Black Type). Many pundits had predicted a two-horse race between Alan Robertson champion Brave Mary and three-time winner Barrack Street from champion trainer Sean Tarry’s yard.

But Pera Palace (14-1), making a fourth career start after a debut win and two disappointing follow-ups, turned on the gas from the start and none of the eight other gallopers looked like catching him at any stage.

Winning jockey Keagan de Melo summed it up: “His speed gets them on the back foot, and then he quickens off that. When he settles down a bit he’ll be a very nice horse.”

Brave Mary (5-2, favourite), returning to competition after a four-month break and warming up for bigger prizes later in the summer season, was probably off her peak, but she nevertheless ran on well to claim second after being about six lengths outpaced in the early stages.

Barrack Street (18-10) never looked threatening and faded away to finish seven lengths behind Pera Palace.

Manitoba (30-1) was another who rallied well in the finish, getting up from last to snag third spot, three lengths off the winner – underlining the good current form of his trainer, St John Gray. The Randjesfontein conditioner had earlier saddled two winners himself – Combat Muster (17-2) in the opener and the redoutable Captain Aldo (14-1) in Race 6. The latter, a seven-year-old, was notching his eighth victory.

Dan The Lad, at 17-2, provided scant relief for groggy punters as he landed the WSB Heritage Consolation. Gunter Wrogemann kept Paul Matchett’s gelding rolling up the inside rail to prevail by a comfortable two lengths.

Sfter the fusillade of mortar bombs, The Grand Heritage Day Pick 6 paid out a colossal R2,013,217.

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