Art Collector painted a rosy picture for his Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve prospects by defeating 3-year-old filly Swiss Skydiver and 11 other colts and geldings in the $600,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course July 11.
Well placed under Brian Hernandez Jr. in the Grade 2 race, Art Collector stalked Swiss Skydiver as she set the pace with fractions of :46.61 and 1:10.63 when pressed to her inside by Shivaree in the 1 1/8-mile dirt race. Called into action on the second turn, Art Collector went after the leader and the most compelling running of the race began.
The 3-year-old son of Bernardini pulled alongside her flank and gradually cut into her advantage, before wearing her down in the final furlong and pulling away by 3 1/2 lengths. The victory earned him 100 qualifying points toward the Derby which was postponed this year until Sept. 5 due to COVID-19.
Racing on a fast track that generated quick times, he stopped the clock in 1:48.11, .82 off Skip Away’s stakes record of 1:47.29 set in 1996.
Hernandez said he had no reservations about Art Collector being able to stretch out a furlong in the Derby Sept. 5.
“You [saw] him today going a mile and an eighth,” he said. “They’re all 3-year-olds, and we’re all going to be trying to go a mile and a quarter. We’ve got one of the Derby favorites now, so you’ve got to be excited.”
Swiss Skydiver, the leading points earner for the Longines Kentucky Oaks, turned in a valiant effort in settling for second, outpacing all of her other rivals and finishing 4 3/4 lengths ahead of wide-running Rushie in third.
Just the second filly in history to race in the Ashland — following Harriet Sue, fifth in 1944 — she earned 40 qualifying points toward the Derby, typically enough to gain entrance, though trainer Ken McPeek seemed more inclined to pursue the Oaks in the immediate aftermath of the Blue Grass.
She tired over the final furlong of Saturday’s race, which Trakus timed in :13.36.
“Her fractions were pretty taxing, but she is fast. She is so special,” said McPeek said. “We might lean against going to the Derby. We might go to the Alabama [or] consider waiting for the Kentucky Oaks.”
The Grade 1 Alabama Stakes is a 1 1/4-mile race at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 15, 20 days before the Oaks at Churchill Downs.
Lecomte Stakes winner Enforceable rallied belated for fourth in the Blue Grass while never a threat.
Although Art Collector had not won a stakes or raced in a graded stakes prior to the Blue Grass, bettors accurately viewed him as a leading Blue Grass contender. Coming off two consecutive dirt allowance victories at Churchill Downs, one of which was a 6 1/2-length score over eventual Indiana Derby winner Shared Sense, he went off at odds of just over 2-1, right behind narrow favorite Swiss Skydiver. He paid $6.60.
“He’s a really good horse,” Hernandez said. “If you go back and watch all his replays, he’s just a very athletic horse. I think one of the most impressive races he ran was the day at Churchill he got shuffled around and almost fell down. I almost pulled him up, but he ran again. From that day on, we always believed he was a really good horse. It’s been a fun ride.”
The colt provided trainer Tom Drury Jr. with the first graded stakes win of his training career, which began in 1991. Drury has long handled lay-ups, come-backing horses usually destined to be sent to other trainers, but has seen his opportunities grow with horses racing for him over the past decade. Nine times since 2010 his stable has earned more than $500,000, something it never did from 1991-2009.
His runners had $329,523 this year before Saturday and got a $360,000 boost with Art Collector’s Blue Grass triumph.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Drury said. “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.”
Drury began training Art Collector this spring after the colt was disqualified from an allowance victory last fall in Kentucky when under the care of trainer Joe Sharp. The colt had tested positive for levamisole, a prohibited substance that Sharp said was in a deworming product he used late last fall and early winter.
Owner Bruce Lunsford told BloodHorse he took Art Collector and other horses away from Sharp as a result of the disqualification.
Lunsford, a successful Kentucky businessman, co-founded Vencor, an eventual Fortune 500 company. Later, he was unsuccessful in two major political bids in the state, first for Governor in 2007 and a year afterward for a U.S. Senate seat.
Bred in Kentucky by Lunsford, Art Collector is the first stakes winner from his dam, the stakes-winning Distorted Humor mare Distorted Legacy.