LOUISVILLE, KY (May 15, 2017) – As he and Lookin’ at Lee were rolling down the stretch at Churchill Downs, on the first Saturday in May, the goose bumps began to pop up on Corey Lanerie’s arms. His throat parched. And, his fourth pair of goggles began to steam up, just a tad.
The cheers of the rowdies in the infield began to fade. The roaring thunder from the thousands in the grandstands, in the clubhouse, and in the corporate boxes, began to quiet. The pounding of horse feet faded away the duo appeared to be gliding on air; flying towards destiny.
And, for a second, just a split second, Corey Lanerie got lost in his dream of a lifetime.
“When we shifted over towards the rail and I could see that finish line in front of me,” Lanerie recalled, “I really thought I was going to win the Kentucky Derby; that we were going to win the Kentucky Derby. We seemed like we were making up ground. I really thought that we were making up ground and that we were going to go right around them. I thought we were going to get those roses.”
Then, about a sixteenth of a mile from that finish line, Lanerie woke up. The Dream dissipated. The fog disappeared. One last spit of mud from the horse in front of him slapped him back into the moment and into reality.
Always Dreaming, with jockey John Velasquez aboard, was not going to quit. Lookin at Lee, try as he may and try as he did, was not going to get to them; to get to the front; to get to that winner’s circle surrounded in red roses.
And, Corey Lanerie, happy as he could be for a race run well, was going to have to wait. For another day. For another chance. For another Derby.
“It lasted for a bit, and then I knew. Even if we had run around there another time, I wasn’t going to get to the winner,” Lanerie said. “We just couldn’t make up that last bit of ground. But I was happy, anyway. My horse gave me everything he had. And, he gave me a thrill.”
Corey Lanerie has been giving Thoroughbred race fans lots of thrills. Especially around these parts. But it did’nt come easily. And, it didn’t come fast. Not nearly as fast as Lookin at Lee ran in the Kentucky Derby.
You see, Lanerie, born in Lafayette, La, began his riding career over 25 years ago. He won his first race at Evangeline Downs in 1989. And, even though he was small and his body easily fit on the back of a horse, Lanerie knew that riding out of the “bush country” and onto the national racing scene where jockeys can make millions of dollars and more in memories, would not be an easy ride.
“It took me a long time,” said Lanerie. “I rode a lot of horses and a lot of races, and I never gave up hope. But it never came easy. I just always kept thinking that I could do it.”
When he moved his tack to Kentucky, more and more people started to believe he could do it, too. More and more trainers gave him and opportunity to do it. And, when given the chance, Corey Lanerie, …well, he ran with it.
“I remember the first time I walked into the jock’s room and Pat Day was in there. He was nearing the end of his career, but he was like The Man, to me. I was too scared to even go over and talk to him, really,” said Lanerie. “But I would watch him. How he went about this business and how he went about his trade. I learned a lot just watching a guy like that.”
It must have sunk in deep. Since those days, Lanerie has now become the closest thing that the Midwest has seen to a “Pat Day” – the Hall of Fame rider who has become the Hall of Fame voice of Christianity on the backside of the racetrack and the front side of life.
Lanerie has won 11 riding titles at Churchill Downs. In 2015, he won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland on the back of Brody’s Cause. In 2016, Lanerie got his first mount in the Kentucky Derby – riding Mo Tom.
As of today (May 15, 2017), Corey Lanerie has 407 rides this year. He has 70 firsts, 56 seconds and 68 thirds. He and his mounts have earnings this year of $3,426,792. That ranks Lanerie 16th out of 1,131 jockeys this year.
For his career, Lanerie has made it to the winner’s circle 4,153 times and has earnings of over $112 million.
Not too shabby.
But this Saturday, Corey Lanerie will get a leg up from trainer Steve Asmussen on Lookin at Lee for the 142nd running of the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes. It ain’t the Kentucky Derby. But it ain’t too shabby either.
“I’m hoping we can make up a few lengths on him (Always Dreaming),” said Lanerie. “This is where every rider wants to be – in the best races; in the Triple Crown races. We are right in the mix. And, we have a shot.”
On Saturday, Lanerie will take his best shot. A shot to get to that winner’s circle. And, for the time being, a garland of “Blackeyed Susans” wouldn’t be a bad thing. Not until he can get those roses.
For more from Corey, check out the podcast at www.thepressboxlts.com. And, hear, in his own words, more about the man in the saddle.