It’s been a year in which the temperatures and weather conditions have seemed to reach the Ohio Valley about three or four weeks ahead of schedule, so it should be no surprise that
the Churchill Downs Spring Meet will wrap-up under weather conditions better suited to late July.
The weekend forecast is a scorcher, calling for daytime temperatures in triple digits. But as hot as the conditions might be, they won’t compare with the sizzling meet enjoyed by jockey Corey Lanerie, who is headed toward his first “leading rider” crown beneath the famed Twin Spires.
Heading into the final weekend of racing at Churchill Downs, Lanerie is ready to join a long list of Louisiana-born stars to enjoy stellar racing meets at the Louisville track. The roster in recent years has included Louisiana exports Robby Albarado, Shane Sellers, Craig Perret, Mark Guidry, Larry Melancon and three-time Derby winner Calvin Borel.
Lanerie’s exploits in the 2012 Spring Meet place him nicely alongside those names, as he has 66 wins out of 252 mounts through the first 35 days of the meet. That’s a win rate of 26 percent, and he has finished in the top three aboard 57 percent of his mounts.
Although the track’s recent riding king, Julien Leparoux, left after Kentucky Derby Week to chase richer, casino-fed purses in New York and Robby Albarado has been absent during the same time because of personal issues, Lanerie has been on such a torrid streak that it’s easy to see him contending for that elusive first Churchill Downs riding title, even if those riders had been in the starting gate alongside him every day.
The meet Lanerie is enjoying is comparable in recent Churchill Downs history only to those enjoyed by Pat Day, the track’s runaway win leader and member of the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame (and several other halls of fame).
With those 66 wins, Lanerie’s margin over his competitors in the Churchill Downs riding colony looks like Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes. Shaun Bridgmohan, who was in a close race with Lanerie until about three weeks ago, currently runs second with 40 victories. Leandro Goncalves, a strong new presence at the track since his arrival three years ago, is next with 32 wins. Borel has collected 30 and Miguel Mena 25.
It has not been close.
Lanerie has always been a dependable talent and a marvelously hard worker. He has flirted with riding crowns on a few occasions since his arrival from the Texas and Louisiana circuits a few years back, but was never able to seal the deal.
This time, Lanerie has done everything right and the pieces have perfectly fallen into place. He has put horses in position to win and he has made the most of opportunities to ride for many of the meet’s top trainers and stables.
And he has been relentless on the track during a meet in which his highlights have included a career-best six victories in a single day.
The bonus here is that, along with his talent and the accomplishments of this spring, Lanerie has always been one of the nicest guys on the track. He greets all with a smile and is truly enjoying his remarkable experience in the 2012 Spring Meet.
He’s a fan favorite and is just as popular in the jockeys’ room. He won’t need a big closing weekend to be an exclamation point on the meet. His entire meet has been an exclamation point.
Another individual who has enjoyed a wonderful spring, although his strike rate is a bit shy of Lanerie’s spectacular numbers, is trainer Garry Simms.
The veteran enjoyed a meet highlight on Saturday when he saddled Blueeyesintherein to win the 112th running of the Debutante Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. It was the second consecutive win in that race for Simms and it improved his Spring Meet record to 6-2-0 in nine races.
What is more remarkable than his gaudy 67 percent winning percentage is the fact that the 60-year-old Simms remains a vibrant and active citizen of the planet Earth. He has battled multiple myeloma – a form of cancer for which there is no cure – for more than two years. His has gone through extensive treatment that has included numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation and a pair of bone marrow transplants.
But through it all he has remained active at the barn and in the sales ring. Long known as buyer with a keen eye for talent at a bargain price, he purchased Blueeyesinthereign at auction.
“I’ve been through a lot, but a lot of people have it a lot worse than I do,” Simms said after the Debutante victory. “Today’s win is a blessing from above and I’m really happy for my owners and my team.”
Before his Debutante win, Simms referred to the soon-to-conclude meet as his “miracle meet.” His presence with us might be a miracle, but the success on the track is attributable to hard-work, persistence and lessons learned through decades on the track.
You could also throw a little “God-given talent” into the mix.
“There’s no cure for multiple myeloma and I’m in the final stage. It’s a miracle I’ve come this far to be this healthy. It’s a God thing. I’m taking it one day at a time. It’s what we all have to do. None of us are promised tomorrow.”
Simms could add one more highlight to his spectacular meet as he plans to run Circle Unbroken in the Bashford Manor during Saturday’s “Downs After Dark” program.
You might want to place at least a $2 wager on that one. Both on the track and in life, it’s not wise to bet against Garry Simms.