Bonginkosi Nkosi: The latest member of the famous Lerena clan to step into the horseracing spotlight is Stephen Lerena – a passionate 28-year-old who currently trains out of Randjesfontein.
He is jockey Gavin Lerena’s cousin and, legendary trainer Spike Lerena’s son – a man Stephen credits as his main influence. “I fell in love with horses because of my dad. For as long as I can remember though, I’ve been in love with the game. I’d spend every weekend and, every school holiday at the racetrack,” he said.
Stephen is equipped with the right credentials – tons of training, racing and actual riding experience so, has the makings of a future champion trainer. “I’ve got big shoes to fill,” he admits.
“But, I’ve put in the time and have learned quite a lot over the years. Before serving time as assistant trainer to my dad I had dreams of becoming a professional jockey. In fact, I was a work rider once upon a time and even rode in New Zealand for some time,” he said.
Unfortunately, he got taller and a lot heavier so decided to pursue training as a career. “One way or another, I knew I’d find a way to work with horses,” he explained.
He is yet to saddle a winner, but is confident his hard work will soon pay off. He strongly believed Samarra would win on Saturday, however, the daughter of Global One finished a disappointing seventh – beaten 8.50 lengths by Melinda’s Garden.
“We have a very small string, but I’m happy because our horse are very consistent. We’ve had a number of inspiring places so things are looking good. If I’m to single out a horse who could give me my first triumph as a trainer, it would have to be Two Guns. He tries hard and will likely run at the Vaal next Saturday,” he said optimistically.
Stephen’s business partner is another Lerena, South African Cruiserweight Boxing Champion, Kevin. “Me and Kevin planned on starting our company Lerena Racing Pty. years ago and finally decided it was time to give it a go. He too is a horseman, I love that. It’s a team effort and his wife Gina is a massive part of it,” he explained.
The young trainer has drawn himself a vivid five-year plan. “The main goal right now is to grow our string. We have no yearlings at the moment so hopefully we get owners on board. I’m excited for the coming sales as we could pick up a few horses,” he said.
Essentially Stephen wants to be one of the top five trainers in the country and then work himself up to champion trainer in the near future.
“I’d love to win Graded races. The Sun Met in particular because my dad has run a couple of places in that event in the past,” he said.
“Hopefully we run in the Charity Mile and get Kevin as the celebrity representing my horse this year!” he laughed – alluding to the fact that the boxer has represented the winning horse in the last two instalments of the race.