Unbeaten Nyquist’s dominating performance in the Kentucky Derby intimidated 17 of his 19 foes from challenging him in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes.
But Lafayette-born jockey Corey Lanerie is more than willing to take his chances with one of the eight new shooters.
Following an eighth-place finish aboard Mo Tom in the Derby, Lanerie will be aboard Cherry Wine on Saturday with the notion of spoiling Nyquist’s Triple Crown ambitions.
“I’m feeling good about things,” Lanerie said. “Cherry Wine’s been training well, which he’d better be because Nyquist is a good, tough horse.
“But he’s never had to run this close back-to-back. So we’re going to take our shot at him and see what happens.”
Cherry Wine, trained by Dale Romans, has not raced since April 9, when Lanerie guided him to a third-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes.
That left Cherry Wine 23rd in the Derby point standings. But there was only one top-20 dropout — the one that let No. 21 Mo Tom into the field — although Romans had Cherry Wine ready to go just in case with Robby Albarado, who happens to be Lanerie’s cousin, scheduled to ride.
It didn’t happen, and when Tom and Gayle Benson-owned GMB Racing decided to point Mo Tom toward the Belmont, Romans went with Lanerie, with whom he has a long relationship, for the Preakness ahead of Albarado, who won the 2007 Preakness aboard Curlin.
“Nothing against Robby, but I would have Corey ride for me every time if I could,” Romans said. “He’s as steady as they come.”
Similarly, Lanerie said he would have liked to have seen Albarado riding in both races as well.
“That’s the way it goes in this business,” he said. “Robby was ready to go in the Derby but it didn’t work out and I just happened to be available for the Preakness.
“The shoe’s been on the other foot before.”
Lanerie also said he was glad he didn’t have to decide between Mo Tom and Cherry Wine.
“It would have been tough,” Lanerie said. “The Bensons have been very good to me and I’ve ridden for Tom (Amoss) for a long time, just like I have for Dale.
“Which is the better horse, I really don’t know. But maybe having the fresher one would have been the way to go.”
Either way, going to the Preakness is getting Lanerie somewhat out of his comfort zone.
This is not just his first Preakness, but Lanerie, 41, has never ridden in any race at Pimlico before in a career that dates to his debut in 1991 at Evangeline Downs.
However, Lanerie isn’t flying to Baltimore until Friday after riding at Churchill earlier in the day.
“It helps to know the track sometimes,” he said. “But Dale has some other horses running at Pimlico and I may take a few mounts to familiarize myself a little bit.
“If Dale had wanted me to come on in, I would have though.”
However, Lanerie has personal reasons for wanting to stay at Churchill Downs.
He’s won eight straight riding titles at Churchill, and 10 in all, putting him behind only Hall of Famers Pat Day (34) and Don Brumfield (12). In the current meet, Lanerie is second after also finishing second at Keeneland earlier in the spring.
Missing time might put Lanerie further behind current leader Julien Lapareaux, who was 17th in the Derby aboard Oscar Nominated but does not have a mount in the Preakness.
“That’s something I’m doing my best to hold on to,” Lanerie said of his streak at Churchill. “I got to within one of Julian the other day and he goes out and wins five times on Sunday.
“I’m doing OK, but it’s hard to hang close to a moving target.”
That’s why regardless of what happens in the Preakness, Lanerie will be back in Louisville on Sunday in time to ride again.
But despite his dominance at Churchill, 4,000-plus career victories with more than $103 million in winnings, including last year when he was 15th nationally with $8.5 million, Lanerie is pretty much unknown outside of Kentucky and Texas — where he has won racing titles at all three of the state’s tracks — and Louisiana.
Mo Tom was only his second Derby mount (he was 16th aboard Harlan Holiday in 2014).
However, things may be changing. After winning just one Grade I race in the first two decades-plus of his career, Lanerie has three in the past year.
“I’ve won a lot of races, but I haven’t always gotten the quality mounts in the stakes races,” he said. “That’s OK, though.
“You have to consider the trainer and owner when you’re choosing your mounts. Sometimes you have to take the lesser horse because the trainer has more horses you want to ride later on.”
That obviously makes the Preakness a race of opportunity for Lanerie, one that could continue his late career surge.
And, despite being 20-1 in the morning line and drawing the No. 1 post position, Lanerie sees himself with a better shot in this race than he did with Mo Tom in the Derby.
“He’s easy to drive,” said Lanerie, who rode Cherry Wine to both of his victories. “This is a horse that knows how to speed up and then idle a little if you need him to.
“Mo Tom is like a big truck when he got going. When you tapped on brakes it takes a little longer to get him to do what you needed.”
Because of his closing speed, many experts are giving Cherry Wine a good shot at the top four Saturday. That could mean a trip to the Belmont where Lanerie might be choosing between mounts again.
“Tom’s doing the right thing holding Mo Tom until the Belmont,” he said. “And I like the way Cherry Wine is working.
“We’ll just have to see how it goes.”