LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After going to sleep Thursday night believing he would be riding in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, Corey Lanerie got a nightmarish wake-up call.
Lanerie was told that Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who swept the Triple Crown last year on Justify, was replacing him on 30-1 shot Cutting Humor. Riders get “jocked off” all the time, but having a Derby mount pulled from beneath you is as jolting as it gets.
"I was in shock this morning when I got the phone call,” Lanerie told interviewer Brittney Eurton on Friday afternoon on NBCSN’s live telecast from Churchill Downs. “I wanted to be out there, but you wish the connections the best, and you never know what can happen in this business.”
Smith was reminded of that Wednesday evening, when he lost his Derby mount because Omaha Beach, the 4-1 morning-line favorite, was scratched because of a throat ailment. Neither Lanerie nor Smith ever has ridden Cutting Humor. He qualified for the Derby by winning New Mexico’s Sunland Derby with John Velazquez, who jumped off Cutting Humor to ride Code of Honor in the Derby.
Louisville native Jack Wolf’s Starlight Racing owns Cutting Humor, and Todd Pletcher trains. Wolf had a minority stake in Justify, and Pletcher said Smith’s big-race success played into the owner's decision to make the change.
“We feel bad about not using Corey in this spot,” Pletcher told the Daily Racing Form, “but this is the decision that’s been made.”
Lanerie, a perennial leading rider at Churchill, has more than 1,000 wins there but is 0-for-4 in the Derby. Under Kentucky law, because he was removed after being named to ride at the time of entry, he is entitled to the same amount of purse earnings as his replacement. He and Smith each will get 10 percent of whatever Cutting Humor earns.
So the better the horse performs, the more upsetting it will be for Lanerie, and the more money he’ll get just for watching. Talk about mixed emotions.