Making the Grade, which will run through the 2020 Triple Crown races, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve was shifted from its normal first Saturday in May place on the calendar to Sept. 5, while the Preakness Stakes was postponed until Oct. 3. The Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets kicked off the 2020 Triple Crown June 20 at the shortened distance of 1 1/8 miles, and Tiz the Law delivered a dominant victory in New York.
Two months ago, Art Collector was a relative unknown with only one official victory from five career starts. But since winning a May 17 allowance-optional claiming race at Churchill Downs, the Bernardini colt has emerged as a serious Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve contender with three straight wins by open lengths. Let’s take a closer look at his recent rise in the 3-year-old division.
Ability: Art Collector made the first three starts of his career on turf, winning once and performing well enough that he was entered in the Grade 3 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland in October 2019. He moved to the main track after running seventh in the Bourbon and showed little in his first try on dirt at Churchill Downs, losing his action according to the Equibase chart as the surface change very likely created some confusion.
The bay colt was much better in his second start on the dirt, surging away to win a three-quarter-mile sprint on a sloppy track at Churchill by 7 ½ lengths Nov. 30. He visited the winner’s circle after that race but in March he lost the win via disqualification after testing positive for the prohibited substance levamisole.
Owner-breeder Bruce Lunsford subsequently transferred Art Collector to trainer Thomas Drury Jr., and he made his 3-year-old debut May 17 at Churchill in a seven-furlong dirt race. He closed from more than seven lengths back after a half-mile to post a 2 ¾-length score and followed with another allowance win June 13 at Churchill. He set the pace in the June race under regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. while stretching out to 1 1/16 miles and streaked to a 6 ½-length runaway win over Shared Sense, who in his next start won the Grade 3 Indiana Derby.
Art Collector received a career-best 106 Equibase Speed Figure for the win and a 100 Beyer Speed Figure, which subsequently was revised to a 102. Drury then opted to try him in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes.
Despite the lack of stakes credentials, Art Collector was sent off as the 2.30-1 second choice just a tick behind favored Swiss Skydiver. He stalked the pace from third, surged past Swiss Skydiver in the stretch, and shook free to win by 3 ½ lengths and earn 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster ride. Everybody was fighting the same thing with COVID-19 and the uncertainty. I’m at a loss for words,” Drury said after his first career graded stakes win. “It takes a village to get these things; there’s a lot of people who have done their part. I’m just honored to be able to share this with my staff and everyone that worked to get him here.”
While the 102 Equibase Speed Figure for the Blue Grass Stakes came up a bit light, he’s now earned 102 and 103 Beyer Speed Figures for his last two starts and likewise 103 and 104 BrisNet speed ratings, respectively. The 123 TimeForm US speed rating also compared favorably with the rest of the 3-year-old division.
Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets winner Tiz the Law remains the top dog in the division and the probable Kentucky Derby favorite, but with Nadal, Charlatan, and Maxfield off the Derby trail, Art Collector moved into a prominent position with the Blue Grass win.
Art Collector has now strung together four straight excellent races, he’s shown versatility both in running style and by winning on fast and sloppy tracks, and he has solid speed figures to support his case. He got a late start building his résumé, but Art Collector is looking better and better in a depleted division.
Running style: In three starts this year, Art Collector has led from start to finish to post a win, rallied from just off the pace to take the Blue Grass, and closed from more than seven lengths back in victory. That type of versatility is invaluable in horse racing when adversity can come at you fast, especially in a 20-horse field on Kentucky Derby day. Consider Art Collector’s versatility a big positive when evaluating his Derby chances.
Connections: Bruce Lunsford, 72, is the chairman and chief executive officer of Lunsford Capital, a private investment company in Louisville, Kentucky. The attorney and businessman has been a prominent member of the Democratic Party in Kentucky since he was instrumental in John Y. Brown Jr.’s successful gubernatorial campaign in 1979 and later served as Secretary of Commerce. A Kentucky native, Lunsford has run unsuccessfully as a candidate for Governor and U.S. Senate.
Lunsford raced Grade 1 winner Madcap Escapade and graded stakes winners Stacked Deck, Tessa Blue, and Bel Air Beauty. He also raced in partnership with Lansdon Robbins III Grade 1 winner First Samurai and graded stakes winner Drilling for Oil.
Thomas Drury Jr. operates primarily out of Skylight Training Center in Goshen, Ky., and has won 470 races through July 13 since he took out his trainer’s license in 1991. Drury won six stakes with Timeless Fashion in 2009-’10 and earned the first graded stakes win of his career with Art Collector.
“This is a big deal for us. It's why you wake up in the morning and go to work. It's special,” Drury told BloodHorse. “Bruce has given me a lot of nice opportunities over the years, and we've won some good races together, though nothing like the Blue Grass. It's a big opportunity for us. I've been on the outside looking in with some really good horses, so to be able to lead over one like this in the Blue Grass Stakes, it's good stuff.”
Jockey Brian Joseph Hernandez Jr. has won 2,061 races, including 146 stakes, through July 13. He won the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap and the Breeders’ Cup Classic aboard Fort Larned in 2012 and added a win with Fort Larned in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap the following year. Hernandez has had two runners in the Kentucky Derby to date, most recently finishing eighth aboard McCraken in 2017.
Pedigree: Art Collector is by 2006 Preakness Stakes winner and champion Bernardini, by A.P. Indy. Bernardini is the sire of 80 stakes winners and 46 group or graded stakes winners from 11 crops of racing age, including Travers Stakes winners Alpha and Stay Thirsty as well as multiple Grade 1 winners Cavorting and To Honor and Serve.
Art Collector is out of Lunsford’s homebred Grade 1-placed stakes winner Distorted Legacy, by Distorted Humor. Distorted Legacy was Grade 1-placed at 1 ¼ miles and finished fourth by a length in the 1 3/8-mile Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf in 2011. Distorted Legacy is a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to graded stakes winner Vision and Verse, the runner-up in both the 1999 Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes.
Art Collector’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Bunting, by Private Account, ran second in both the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes and Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes in 1994.
Based on pedigree and the way Art Collector finished in the Blue Grass Stakes, I don’t expect he’d have much trouble stretching out to 1 ¼ miles. He’s versatile and coming into his own at an ideal time in the season considering the rescheduled Kentucky Derby comes eight weeks after his breakthrough win.