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Bridging The Gap
Losing Kentucky Derby mount to Mike Smith 'like a slap in the face' to jockey Corey Lanerie
  Saturday 04 May, 2019
Losing Kentucky Derby mount to Mike Smith \'like a slap in the face\' to jockey Corey Lanerie

Corey Lanerie thought he was home free. He thought he had held on, at least long enough to reach the starting gate. He thought he would be riding Cutting Humor in the Kentucky Derby right up until he was told he had been replaced Friday morning.

Two days after winning his 1,000th race at Churchill Downs — a feat accomplished by only three other jockeys — Lanerie attended a cocktail party Thursday night at the home of Starlight Racing partner Clint Glasscock. Trainer Todd Pletcher was also there, along with some of Cutting Humor’s owners. Lanerie knew there had been talk of a jockey change with Mike Smith conspicuously available following the late scratch of Derby favorite Omaha Beach, but he left the party thinking he was still solid.

“I really thought everything was going to be OK and I was going to ride the horse,” Lanerie said Friday afternoon. “I felt really good. I was glad I went, (thought) I might have secured it.”

Replacing Lanerie at the 11th hour obligates Jack Wolf and his Starlight partners to pay two jockeys for one Derby ride. It exposes Smith to criticism for callous opportunism. And it evidently ignores that Lanerie has won more riding titles at Churchill Downs (16) than anyone not named Pat Day.

Worse, dumping Lanerie on Oaks Day, a year after his late wife had marched in its annual cancer survivors parade, fairly begs for bad karma.

“I thought this year might have been my year because of all that,” Lanerie said. “I felt I would have had an angel with me to help me through.”

If the decision was defensible on the grounds that Smith is just that good and that the Derby is just so important that expedience trumps etiquette, it nonetheless arrives as an implicit slight to Lanerie and a peculiar reach considering Cutting Humor was a 30-1 shot as of Wednesday's updated morning line.

“It feels like a slap in the face,” Lanerie said. “All the hard work that we put into our careers, trying to make it to this point, it just kinds of devastates you. It’s a moment you’ve lived for and tried to wait for all year. Then you think you’ve got it and the next minute they just take it from you.”

Loyalties can be notoriously fleeting in thoroughbred racing. After riding Justify to a Triple Crown for trainer Bob Baffert last spring, Smith repaid Baffert by abandoning Roadster to ride Omaha Beach for Richard Mandella. John Velazquez, who has been Pletcher’s go-to jockey and had been Cutting Humor’s regular rider, has chosen to make Shug McGaughey’s Code Of Honor his Derby mount.

Until the Cutting Humor mount came available, Lanerie’s best shot at the 2019 Derby had been with Keith Desormeaux’s Sueno, a colt that finished 24th in the Derby point standings following third-place finishes in the Louisiana Derby and the Lexington Stakes.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough points,” Lanerie said. “From that point on, we were kind of searching. I contacted Jack (Wolf) and told him I’d love to ride (Cutting Humor). He said they were talking about me and I was going to be considered. They were waiting on their decision, so they asked me to wait three or four days to not try to find anything else. That kind of hurt, too, because maybe ...”

His voice trailed off. Sitting at a round table outside Churchill Downs’ jockeys quarters, Lanerie wore a shirt embroidered with a logo for his late wife’s foundation and a large tattooed rose on his right shoulder. Lanerie has ridden in four Derbys to date, finishing second on long shot Lookin At Lee in 2017, but he said the rose was intended to cover an earlier tattoo (of a scorpion) and not as a tribute to the Run for the Roses.

Given the Derby’s grandeur and its capacity to change lives, it is hard to begrudge horsemen the chance to chase that dream unconstrained by appearances or personal sentiment. If Smith improves Cutting Humor’s odds as much in reality as he has in pre-race wagering, it will be hard to argue with the decision to employ a Hall of Fame rider in the biggest race going.

Still, it’s worth noting that Baffert kept his commitment to Florent Geroux despite Smith’s sudden availability and his three wins aboard Roadster. It’s worth noting that Roadster’s owners, Speedway Stable’s Peter Fluor and K.C. Weiner, are looking for their first Derby win along the high ground.

And it’s worth noting that Lanerie was reluctant to burn bridges he might later wish to cross.

“You’ve got to kill them with kindness,” he said. “Next year, I might be the one that they want.”

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/horses/triple/derby/2019/05/04/kentucky-derby-lanerie-losing-cutting-humor-mount/1100287001/

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