Two of the three “human races” run through the weather-abbreviated 24-day Fall Meet at Churchill Downs are nail-biters and likely to go down to the last two or three races on Sunday’s 11-race program.
While the crowns for the meet’s top owner and training were tights when the day began, there was no suspense in the contest for leading jockey. Corey Lanerie will need to clear a spot in his increasingly-crowded trophy case for another “Leading Rider” honor from Churchill Downs.
Heading into Sunday’s Fall Meet finale, Lanerie had ridden 34 winners and held an insurmountable advantage over second-place Shaun Bridgmohan (25 wins) and third-place Julian Leparoux (23).
With the Fall 2014 trophy already secured, Lanerie has won five straight riding crowns at Churchill Downs and seven of the last eight. He is knocking on the door of becoming one of the top 10 riders in the 140-year history of Churchill Downs with 619 career wins at the track heading into Sunday’s races. He currently ranks 11th on the track’s all-time win list behind Hall of Famers Pat Day and Calvin Borel.
“It’s awesome,” Lanerie said. “It’s a great feeling to have business where the owners and trainers are sticking behind me. I have the opportunity to ride a lot of horses, and a lot of the better horses, and it makes for a good meet.”
Lanerie enjoyed a solid career at tracks in Louisiana and Texas prior to his move north to Kentucky. It was a big decision and he was optimistic that he could make his presence known, but he admits it would have been difficult to dream that his decision would work out so well.
“I was scared to come here,” Lanerie recalled. “I was doing pretty good on the Louisiana and Texas circuit and I was scared to take a jump. But I made the move and I did okay the first few years, and then things started to click.”
Lanerie said he was fortunate to have veteran jockey’s agent Terry “Jaws” Miller on his side when he arrived in Kentucky. Miller’s connections and Lanerie’s ability resulted in early success, and he has steadily climbed the ladder each year since his arrival.
“Without him to get me started, I might not be here today,” Lanerie said. “It was kind of like a kick-start to be able to come and get on business right away without people knowing me. I think that’s been the big day.”
Lanerie, who will head to Florida at the end of the Fall Meet to ride through the winter at Gulfstream Park, has one stakes victory among his Fall Meet wins at Churchill Downs. He was aboard Bill Cubbedge’s Molly Morgan for her victory in the $200,000-added Chilukki (Grade II).
HOWARD LOVED THE LOOK OF EAGLE IN SATURDAY’S KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB
While New York invaders El Kabeir and Imperia grabbed the top two positions in Saturday’s dramatic 88th renewal of the $233,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), Churchill Downs-based trainer Neil Howard was still beaming Sunday morning over the performance in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Derby prep by his rising star Eagle.
Owner-breeder William S. Farish’s son of Candy Ride (ARG) lost momentum in traffic problems on the far turn, but once clear Eagle rallied strongly under Brian Hernandez Jr. to finish third, the quarters of a length behind the top pair.
The Kentucky Jockey Club was the stakes debut for Eagle, whose three previous races included a maiden victory in his debut at Ellis Park, a runner-up finish in a Churchill Downs allowance race and an easy win in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Keeneland.
“It was a really, really good competitive race and I thought it was a great effort,” Howard said. “We were all very pleased with the way he ran. Most importantly, Brian was more than satisfied.”
Howard saw Eagle steady along the inside as the 11-horse field made its way around the far turn. But Eagle’s run was so good that he saw no reason to dwell upon what might have been.
"When you lose a step or two on the turn like he did, there’s no room for losing even an inch of ground in those kind of races,” Howard said. “All in all, we were pleased.”
Howard’s career résumé includes a runner-up finish in the 1990 Kentucky Derby and a victory in the Preakness by Summer Squall, and he guided Mineshaft through a “Horse of the Year” campaign in 2003.
Eagle and the rest of Howard’s horses will leave Sunday evening on a journey to the stable’s winter quarters at New Orleans’ Fair Grounds. There will be ample opportunities there for Farish’s colt to prove if he is worthy of consideration for the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands at his home track on Saturday, May 2.
“We’ll look at the obvious races down there,” Howard said. “We’ll see how he does and plan. But they have the strong 3-year-old series (of races) down there, so that would probably be the most likely thing that we’ll be doing.”
Eagle collected his first “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points in his Kentucky Jockey Club effort, earning two points for his third-place run on the 10-4-2-1 “Prep Season” scoring system. His career record now stands at 2-1-1 in four races with earnings of $81,602.
FIRST YEAR IN KENTUCKY WAS GOOD TO LANDEROS
As he wraps up his first year in Kentucky, Chris Landeros is feeling very good about taking the chance that brought him to the Bluegrass State last spring.
It took the 26-year-old Landeros, who already had 1,000 wins to his credit when he arrived in Kentucky in the spring, some time to make his presence known. But he gained momentum and confidence throughout the year, and he is much more comfortable now than when he arrived in the Bluegrass State as a fresh new face following a winter of riding at New Orleans’ Fair Grounds.
“It’s been a great year,” Landeros said. “I wish I had come here earlier.”
Landeros entered the final day of Churchill Downs’ Fall Meet with seven victories that included a stakes win aboard Courtlandt Farm’s Strike Charmer in the $100,000-added Cardinal Handicap (GIII).
He has enjoyed solid success at all three Churchill Downs racing meets and other Kentucky tracks, and his decision to relocate from Texas has already resulted in his first ride in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
Landeros guided the 2-year-old Lawn Ranger to win Keeneland’s Dixiana Bourbon (GIII) for trainer Kenny McPeek, a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event that earned that colt and Landeros a run in the Juvenile Turf (GI) at Santa Anita. Lawn Ranger and Landeros finished sixth to the victorious Hootenanny in his Breeders’ Cup debut.
Another highlight of his inaugural season in Kentucky was a victory aboard Dimension in the $200,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Dash.
Landeros came to Kentucky after a run as a leading rider at Lone Star Park in Texas and earlier success at Arizona’s Turf Paradise. Despite big numbers at those tracks, he was patient in assessing a possible move to Kentucky, although he was frequently encouraged to consider that step.
“I had opportunities, but I just never took them,” Landeros said. “I felt that I needed to polish myself up a little bit more. Being leading leader rider in Texas and riding for trainers like Bret Calhoun and Steve Asmussen, it led me up to a place like this.
“A year ago in November, I said I was going to Kentucky this spring. No matter what happens at Fair Grounds, I’m going to Kentucky.”
He received early support on his new racing circuit from trainer David Carroll, and he was able to repay the favor this month by riding the Carroll-trained Strike Charmer to her victory in the Cardinal. He also has strong praise for McPeek and trainer Ian Wilkes.
“He’s a tremendous guy to ride for and I don’t know if I could have done it without him,” Landeros said of McPeek. “Ian Wilkes has helped me out a lot, and he helps me on-the-ground, as well. He helps me to be humble and be professional.”
With the conclusion of the Fall Meet at Churchill Downs, Landeros will head back to the Fair Grounds for the winter, and also expects to ride horses for McPeek, who will be based at Oaklawn Park and Sam Houston Park in Texas. But he will be back in Kentucky next spring and plans to build a home in the Louisville area.
Now that he’s finally here, Chris Landeros plans to be a part of racing at Churchill Downs and the state of Kentucky for a good while.
“It’s a classy place here,” Landerous said. “I don’t know where else you would want to be. Like I was saying, I wish I had come here earlier.”
CONSTRUCTION ON WINNER’S CIRCLE SUITES AND COURTYARD BEGINS MONDAY
Preliminary construction on Churchill Downs’ new Winner’s Circle Suites and Courtyard will commence after training hours on Monday.
The $4.2 million capital improvement project includes the construction of 20 private, open-air, all-inclusive Winner’s Circle Suites in a premium location under the Twin Spires between the sixteenth pole and finish line; a remodeled Trackside Winner’s Circle; and the creation of a new Courtyard that will accommodate temporary premium seating during Derby Week while providing a relaxed park-like setting for everyday racing fans.
The project, which encompasses 16,000 square feet, involves converting what are now box seats in Section 118 and 119 Clubhouse on the south side of the paddock runway, and bleacher seats in Section 119 Grandstand and one-third of Section 120 Grandstand on the paddock runway’s north side.
The project will be completed before the start of the 2015 Spring Meet on Saturday, April 25.