BALTIMORE — Lafayette native Corey Lanerie is well on his way to his 13th Churchill Downs riding title. More importantly to his career, he hopes to be on his way to a first Triple Crown victory when riding Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee in Saturday’s 142nd Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.
The jockey has a pretty good record in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness: In his only mount, he was second last year on 17-1 shot Cherry Wine, who like Lookin At Lee is a late closer.
Lanerie’s 4,153 wins heading into Thursday rank 61st all time; his career earnings of $112.5 million are 42nd. He dominated Texas racing before relocating to Kentucky, and also owns three riding titles at Ellis Park. He spends the winter riding at Gulfstream Park’s signature meet and has spent the summer at Saratoga.
And he knows he needs that signature victory to get more of the nationally prominent outfits to think of him as a big-race rider, a prime option for the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup and not an afterthought for their long shots. A Preakness triumph would fit the bill nicely.
“That would leap me up a giant step,” Lanerie said. “These kind of races is what people really notice. … To show that you can do it and compete on that level.”
Last year’s Preakness card was the only time Lanerie has ridden at Pimlico. He had a fourth and a last in a pair of earlier turf stakes, then finished second on Cherry Wine in a performance eerily similar to Lookin At Lee’s Derby: saving ground throughout after breaking from the No. 1 post, coming from well back over a sloppy track.
“I think Lookin At Lee looks like he’ll go a little farther than Cherry Wine did,” Lanerie said. “We had a fast pace last year, and they kind of collapsed and we came running and picked up some pieces. That was kind of our goal there: to save some horse and come running at the end.
“I think we’re going into this thinking we have a really good shot to win it. So we’ll be looking to get the whole thing, not just finishing.”
The No. 1 post had not produced a top-three finish in the Derby since third-place Risen Star in 1988. Even before the race, trainer Steve Asmussen said that if any horse and rider could handle the pitfalls of the Kentucky Derby rail, it was Lookin At Lee and Lanerie.
Indeed, Lanerie had vowed if he ever got on the right horse that he wanted the Derby trip that fellow Cajun Calvin Borel used en route to three victories in the Churchill Downs classic. He got that horse in the hard-trying Lookin At Lee, who closed to be a troubled third in the Arkansas Derby.
The rail-hugging “Mine That Bird trip” that Borel made famous on the 50-1 shot who came from last to win the 2009 Kentucky Derby “was my plan, even before I had a mount, to try to ride like Calvin, save all the ground. Just try to pick up the pieces,” Lanerie said.
He had one scary moment on the far turn as Fast and Accurate, who had been part of the early speed and was staggering, and had to check in front of him.
“I thought I was going to run into a wreck,” Lanerie said. “Instead, I got lucky and they bounced right instead of left. And when they did that, it left the rail just wide open for me. Right here I said, ‘I’m going to win the Derby.’ I was coming so fast and so easy. I thought they all had to stop.
“And Always Dreaming just wouldn’t come back.”
Always Dreaming won by 2¾ lengths. Watching a replay, Lanerie laughed and put his hand over Always Dreaming on the computer screen, saying cheerfully, “And now I look like the winner.
“You come so close and you don’t get it done, but to run second in only my third Kentucky Derby mount, it was pretty special. Just everybody calling you and congratulating you like you’d won.”
The highest praise came from Borel himself, the racing Hall of Fame member and Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee saying, “I thought that was me on him.”
“You have to have the horse — and a horse that is willing to go through a tight hole,” said Lanerie, who got on Lookin At Lee for the first time in the paddock before the Derby. “You need a horse that is not scared and enough horse to be fast enough to catch the hole and get through it.”
Asked who had more guts, Lanerie or Lookin At Lee, Asmussen said, “A 100 percent is 100 percent. I think those two on Derby Day were a great fit. They planned on doing all they could do. Neither one of them make any excuses. Everybody involved was very impressed with Lookin At Lee and Corey Lanerie.”