12/05/2002 1:00AM

Lanerie doesn't allow early spill to be a bad omen


NEW ORLEANS - Five mornings before the Fair Grounds meet began, Corey Lanerie lay on the stretch of the racetrack here. His mount in a training race had just suffered catastrophic injuries to her front legs, and with no warning Lanerie had been slammed to the ground.

"Every time you hit it's hard, but that one was the hardest," Lanerie said. "I got up, and I tried to make myself believe I was all right, but it didn't feel that way."

It feels much better now. Lanerie, worried the day before this meet opened that he would be too sore to ride, came out and won five races on opening day, his best afternoon ever at Fair Grounds. He has kept up a strong pace since then, and with 10 winners during the first week of racing, Lanerie led defending riding champion Eddie Martin by five wins in the jockey standings. Even when Lanerie doesn't win, Lanerie's agent, Rick Mocklin, has been putting him on live horses: 26 of the 33 horses Lanerie rode opening week finished in the top three.

Lanerie had a banner Lone Star meet this year, but he said he has never started Fair Grounds this way. "I was just hoping to win four or five races the whole week," he said.

Lanerie's job is about to get harder, however. Robby Albarado, Calvin Borel, and Shane Sellers all have shifted there tack here from Churchill Downs, and competition for top mounts should be more fierce.

Sellers - who came out of retirement and had a strong Churchill meet - and Albarado have long had a strong presence here, but Borel plans to spend the entire season at Fair Grounds rather than going to Oaklawn, where he regularly was leading rider.

Learned will await Louisiana Handicap

Trainer Bobby Barnett's arrival at Fair Grounds was put on hold by the snowstorm that hit Kentucky this week, but at least his horses made it here. Barnett has an improved Fair Grounds string this season, and the lightly raced Learned could be a strong factor in the local handicap division this winter.

Learned, who turns 5 in three weeks but has started only six times, will get his first chance in a stakes race Jan. 2 in the Louisiana Handicap. Barnett and Learned's owner, Midway Farm, decided to pass Sunday's Tenacious Handicap to give Learned more time between starts.

"That's when he seems to run best," Barnett said.

Learned is such a massive animal he needs more recovery time than most racehorses. "He's the tallest horse I've ever put a saddle on," Barnett said.

His size was one reason Learned got a late start to his career. He won his first three races last fall, but before he could even start at Fair Grounds last year an injury took Learned out of training for most of the season. Learned returned to action in September, but lost his sprint comeback and then finished third on a speed-biased Keeneland track in a race that was intended as a prep for the Fayette Handicap.

"We probably ran him back too quick that day," Barnett said. This time Barnett waited, and Learned turned in an impressive performance, winning a Churchill allowance race by more than three lengths.

Learned will have his first work since that start sometime next week, Barnett said. "He looks like he's come back to the level of last year," he said.

The news is not as good for the Barnett-trained Star of Atticus, the 2-year-old filly who finished second in the Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill. Star of Atticus came out of a sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 Golden Rod with a chipped ankle, and surgery was performed on her Monday. Barnett said Star of Atticus would miss about 60 days of training.