It was a dreary, rainy day, and the Fair Grounds’ track was sloppy for Saturday’s Louisiana Champions Day races.
However, it was a special day for jockey Corey Lanerie, a champion rider at Churchill Downs, who was back in his home state for the first time since his wife, Shantel, died suddenly on June 22 in Louisville, Ky.
Lanerie guided Underpressure, the 5-2 second favorite, to a two-length victory in the 28th running of the $150,000 Louisiana Champions Day Classic.
Grande Basin was second, with Mageez — the 2-1 favorite by race time — third and Autumn Warrior fourth.
On a day featuring Louisiana-bred horses, Lanerie planned for the race, the biggest of the day, to be special.
“I rode in the Shantel Lanerie Breast Foundation saddle,” he said. “It’s pink and white (with the foundation’s name on it). I only used it in the Breeders’ Cup before. I took it out for today to ride, hoping it would get a winner, and this was the one.”
It also was big day for trainer Chris Richard and for Underpressure, a 4-year-old colt who had been consistently in the money for much of his career but an also-ran, nonetheless.
It was the biggest win of Richard’s career. He’d won the Louisiana Bred Premiere Night Prince Stakes at Delta Downs on Feb. 11, 2017 with Underpressure, but most of his wins with the colt were in allowance claiming races.
“This win means a lot,” Richard said. “Being a Louisiana-bred myself, to finally break through … We’d come close in some of the Louisiana-bred races. We lost by (a head) to Mobile Bay (in February) on Premiere Night, and we’ve had some really good runs but didn’t win.”
Underpressure was third in last year’s Louisiana Champions Day Classic, behind Mobile Bay and Grande Basin.
Richard credited Saturday’s win to Lanerie.
“I thought Corey did a great job, getting (Underpressure) out of the gate, getting him in the race, a very quick opening quarter going a mile and an eighth, 23 and (four-fifths seconds),” Richard said. “It was 47 and change for (a half-mile), very legitmate fractions. And, he had just a perfect trip sitting in fourth position. Never got in any trouble, never got in any traffic.”
Out of the gate, Ready Prospector, who broke from the fourth gate, had the lead, with Autumn Warrior, the No. 1 horse, in second and No. 7 Zenucci in third, followed by Underpressure, who broke from gate No. 3.
Ready Prospector kept the lead into the first turn, with Zenucci edging ahead of Autum Warrior. It stayed that way on the back stretch and into the far turn.
Lanerie said the fourth spot was the place to be.
“I didn’t have anybody near me,” Lanerie said. “(Underpressure) was kind of running in his own slot, chasing the horses in front.
“I was just keeping my eye on (Autumn Warrior). I thought he was probably one of the horses to beat. And whenever it looked like he was looking for racing room, I tried to get up and make sure he didn’t find it so I could get the jump on him.”
Like last year, Richard said he likely will eschew the big Jan. 19 races on Road to the Derby Day at the Fair Grounds and opt for another run in the Premiere Night at Delta. However, he likes the prospects for Underpressure.
“He can off the lead; he’s come from way off of it,” Richard said. “He stalks. He won a race in Minnesota on the lead. His versatility. He can come from anywhere, depending on the race and how everything sets up.
“He’s run well in open (-class race). He’s run great in Louisiana-bred (races). So, it’s really more about him than anything else.”