“I think that’s what’s made me today. I’ve won a lot of races by doing it and it’s worked a lot of times. People don’t seem to notice it sometimes, but they notice when it doesn’t work.” — Corey Lanerie
The inside portion of the track has been jockey Corey Lanerie’s bread and butter. If the 10-time leading rider at Churchill Downs is going to have a mount get passed in the stretch, one better be prepared to go around because it will be a frigid day in the underworld before he lets someone best him by coming up the rail.
Credit Lanerie for sticking with what works for him. Credit him more for owning the times it doesn’t. Because had he not absorbed responsibility for an unfortunate stretch move on Mo Tom that led to a fourth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby March 26, his chance at keeping the mount for the 142nd Kentucky Derby might have been slim.
Whether intentional or not, Lanerie has been riding of late like a man trying to send a message. The Louisville-based rider booted home 16 winners during the Keeneland Spring Meet that concluded Friday to finish second in the jockey standings. He is now heading to the track where he has won eight consecutive riding titles with a sneaky live mount for the first leg of the Triple Crown.
That Lanerie has gotten into a zone when he most needs to is a feat of resiliency unto itself. Last month, he took a verbal lashing from trainer Tom Amoss and countless other barbs hurled his way on social media when he angled Mo Tom on the rail and then ran up on another horse in the stretch of the Louisiana Derby, forcing him to check the colt sharply and lose all momentum.
In the immediate aftermath, a remorseful Lanerie said he doubted Amoss and owners GMB Racing “would ever let me sit” on Mo Tom again. There is something to be said for the power of contrition. That and the fact that there are worse things than giving a leg up in the Kentucky Derby to the man who has owned the Churchill oval in recent years.
“You know, I was talking to my wife about that and I was like, probably if I wouldn’t have done that I don’t think I’d be on him today,” Lanerie said of his public mea culpa. “I think they respected that and my honesty and decided to leave me on him and hopefully it doesn’t happen again.”
Added Amoss, “Corey has been the leading rider here at Churchill Downs multiple times. He knows it very well and he rides it very well. That was a lot of raw emotion after the race and it was uncalled for, I was out of line. But Corey and I quickly made up. We feel lucky to have him and lucky to have someone who knows our horse. If we could have anybody, he’s the guy we’d want.”
Only Hall of Famers Pat Day (34) and Don Brumfield (12) have earned more Churchill Downs meet titles than Lanerie. So if it comes as a shock to learn that Mo Tom is just the second Kentucky Derby mount for the 41-year-old — the first being Harry’s Holiday in 2014 — he reminds of the long road he has taken.
On the day-to-day circuit, Lanerie has long been a stalwart, but only the last few years has he enjoyed a consistent stream of stakes mounts. Of the four career Grade I races he has won, three have come in the last 12 months with his most recent top-level triumph coming aboard Kentucky Oaks contender Weep No More in the Grade I Ashland Stakes at Keeneland on April 9.
Corey has been the leading rider here at Churchill Downs multiple times. He knows it very well and he rides it very well. That was a lot of raw emotion after the (Fair Grounds) race and it was uncalled for, I was out of line. But Corey and I quickly made up. We feel lucky to have him and lucky to have someone who knows our horse. If we could have anybody, he’s the guy we’d want.
Tom Amoss, trainer of Mo Tom
“A lot of my business was more in the cheaper races. I won a lot of races, but when it came to the stakes races, I’d ride a long shot or I didn’t have the quality mounts in a stakes race,” said Lanerie, who won the 2015 Keeneland Fall Meet title. “I guess that’s why I never had anything make it to the Derby but I had a lot of everyday business. Finally I broke through and had a couple of decent stake winners and now it just seems to be falling into place.”
Part of what Lanerie says makes him so successful at Churchill Downs is simple comfort level.
“It seems like I can go around there with my eyes closed and know where I’m at on the racetrack,” he said.
Having ridden Mo Tom, a son of Uncle Mo, in six of the colt’s seven career starts, including their 2 1/4 -length win in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 16, there is a familiarity Lanerie can draw upon, as well as some recent lessons.
The knock on Mo Tom and his late-running style is that he is trouble-prone. In addition to the Louisiana Derby debacle, Lanerie and his mount found similar strife during their third-place finish in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 20 when a tiring Bistraya came over into Mo Tom in the stretch causing him — again — to check up.
The problem, Lanerie says, is not that Mo Tom isn’t fast enough to go through the openings when they appear. It’s that once he hits the “go” button, there is no emergency break.
“Once you engage him, it’s hard to idle back down,” Lanerie said. “Like in the Louisiana Derby, I watched the replay over and over again and I really didn’t move and go for a hole, I just kind of moved up a little bit. But when I needed him to idle, and wait for the hole to open, he wouldn’t and his momentum just carried me into the back of those horses. Once you hit the button, it’s like trying to stop a big truck.”
At the start of the year, Lanerie looked like he may have a hard choice to make come May 7 as he was the regular rider for Mo Tom, Grade I winner Brody’s Cause and promising Cherry Wine. With Luis Saez picking up the mount on Brody’s Cause and Cherry Wine currently 25th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, fate intervened to keep Mo Tom and Lanerie a pairing.
“Thank God they left me on Mo Tom,” Lanerie smiled. “Or else I might be sitting on the outside looking in.”
When: Saturday, May 7
Post time: 6:34 p.m. (NBC-18)