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Sat Apr 19 20:07:32 SAST 2014

Mr Lerena has the look of a champion

Mike Moon | 20 July, 2012 05:460 Comments

THIS is a good time to be punting horses. You've got more chance of winning now than at other times of the year.

Pray, do tell me more, I hear you plead.

Well, with the season concluding in 10 days' time, there's a close race on for the national jockey championship. The leading contenders are desperate for wins and, if you follow key riders intelligently, you can clean up.

Not only are the jockeys lifting their game, their regular stables are working especially hard to provide winners and their booking agents are hitting the phones to secure good mounts around the country.

I'm rooting for Gavin Lerena to take the title for the first time.

This is not only because he's talented enough to have got some of my untalented horses to run above their pathetic abilities in the past, it's also because he's one of few people who address me as "Mr Moon".

I'm not for forelock-tugging or bowing and scraping. But a smidgeon of politeness - not to mention respect for, ahem, elders - makes a charming change in a generally ill-mannered world.

I wagered money on this chap to become champion when, about eight months ago, it became evident he had maturedinto a superb jockey, with priceless attributes of timing, balance and "good hands", and was going for glory.

But in racing, whenever it looks a sure thing, watch out. By May, Gavin was 16 winners clear of his challengers, Anton Marcus and Anthony Delpech, and cruising to the crown.

Then he hopped onto a filly called Mary's Pride in a race at Turffontein.

In the parade to the start, this creature went loco and bolted down the track; Gavin clinging on, unable to calm or slow her down.

At the far end of the Turfies straight is a concrete boundary wall, which, in cricket parlance, "got big" on our speeding hero. Mary's Pride suddenly braked and dropped a shoulder, pitching Gavin smack into the wall, cracking the fibula in his right leg.

With true grit, Gavin got back into the irons after just seven weeks out.

He'd fallen six winners behind the then log leader, Delpech.

But a couple of weeks of inspired riding had him back on top.

He headed to Harare this past Saturday looking to put daylight between himself and the rest, but, racing being the infernal game it is, he returned to Johannesburg with just four second places for his trouble.

So, on Wednesday, leading the log by two winners, Gavin flew to Durbanville and showed resolve befitting a champion.

With composure, he kept a veering Royal Performance on a straight enough course to grab victory. Then he drove home Oratius with old-fashioned strength and power; then coaxed a tiring Wings of Fortune to hang on by a whisker.

Under the gun, it was a hat-trick of note.

If young Gav goes on to win the title, I might even call him "Mr Lerena".

1 Turffontein, tomorrow: PA - 1,12 x 1,7,11 x 1,2,6,11 x 3,6 x 3 x 2 x 4 (R48)

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Mr Lerena has the look of a champion

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Sat Apr 19 20:07:32 SAST 2014 ::