Jack Milner and Mike Moon: Jockey Gavin Lerena, who has been off for the past few weeks dealing with the Epstein-Barr virus, made a sensational return to the saddle at the Vaal on Saturday, winning on his first three rides back.
The former national champion narrowly missed making it four-in-a-row with a second place in his final ride of the day in Race 5.
In Race 2 Lerena booted home Twice A Lady for trainer Candice Dawson. In Race 3 he steered Greenwood Drive to an easy victory for Robbie Sage and followed up with a powerhouse ride aboard Secret Potion for Geoff Woodruff.
Roy Magner-trained Winter Watch tried hard to make Lerena’s day perfect, but was eventually beaten into second by Frederico’s Dream in the 1000m fifth on the card.
“I’m blowing heavily,” admitted Lerena after he won on 5-2 shot Twice A Lady. “But you got to get the pipes open and I’m looking forward to the rest of the day.”
Lerena made good use of No 2 draw and had his mount out in a flash for this Maiden Plate for fillies and mares over 1500m on the Classic track. Shakespeare Inlove stayed with him but 500m out Lerena took his mount to the lead.
There was nothing more to come from Shakespeare Inlove who faded out and it was left to Diva Faustina (12-1) to run on for second, still 0.80 lengths back at the finish. Wild Lady (28-1) got third.
“I was meant to ride her first time out but was sick. She was doing well at home and I would like to thank Candice for putting me on again,” said Lerena
Australian import Greenwood Drive started at 33-10 – behind 14-10 favourite Gertjie on the betting boards.
Greenwood Drive had little trouble breaking his maiden as he was stepped up in trip to 2000m, besting Sucha Charmer by 3.80 lengths. Collegiate (7-1) was third and Gertjie fourth.
In Race 4, another 2000m contest, Lerena was happy to let Secret Potion (14-10 favourite) idle along near the end of the field for most of the journey. In the straight, he pushed the daughter of Elusive Fort forward and grabbed the lead about 400m out.
Subtle Force (7-1) showed some late cheek but the former champ got to work on Secret Potion and she responded to hold on gallantly.
Afterwards, Lerena thanked Woodruff for being supportive through his two months of illness, saying the trainer had assured him that “your horses are waiting for you”.
Woodruff said the comeback hat-trick was “testament to Gav’s professionalism”. About Secret Potion, he said the Oaks might now be her target.
There was some drama in Race 1 when work rider Chamu Mabaya failed to weigh in and his mount, National Aim, was disqualified by the clerk of scales. National Aim finished eighth so it did not affect punters in any way but an inquiry has been opened into the incident.