Art Collector brought the goods to Saturday’s $600,000 Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland, driving past Swiss Skydiver in midstretch and posting a three-length win in the major Kentucky Derby qualifier. The rapidly-improving colt made his first dirt stakes appearance for owner/breeder Bruce Lunsford and trainer Tommy Drury Jr., and Art Collector stretched his win streak to three with regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. in the saddle.
Off as the 2.30-1 second choice, Art Collector tracked the pace in third between Shivaree to the inside and 2.20-1 favorite Swiss Skydiver on the outside. Swiss Skydiver, who was trying to become the first filly to ever win the Blue Grass, edged forward to take a short lead entering the backstretch.
The early pace was solid (:23.25 and :46.61), and Swiss Skydiver reached the three-quarters mark in 1:10.63 with a one-length advantage. Art Collector was about a length back in second, and Hernandez asked for run approaching the quarter-pole.
Art Collector drew even with about a furlong remaining and drew off in the final sixteenth of a mile, completing the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:48.11.
“He’s a really good horse,” Hernandez said. If you go back and watch all his replays, he’s just a very athletic horse…It’s been a fun ride.”
Swiss Skydiver held second by nearly five lengths, with 7-1 third choice Rushie winning a three-horse battle for the show spot. Enforceable closed to be a neck back in fourth, a head better than fifth-placer Attachment Rate. Mr. Big News, Finnick the Fierce, Tiesto, Hard Lighting, Basin, Shivaree, Hunt the Front, and Man in the Can completed the order of finish.
Worth a combined 170 points to the top four finishers (100-40-20-10 scale) as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, Art Collector stamped his berth to the Run for the Roses on Sept. 5. The Kentucky-bred son of Bernardini has finished first in his last three starts on the main track at Churchill Downs (disqualified once).
“He’s very versatile, very classy. He’s just the whole package” Drury said. “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. 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.”
The bay sophomore began his career on the turf last summer for trainer Joe Sharp, recording a maiden win from three starts, and switched to the dirt last November. He experienced a troubled trip in the first attempt and wound up sixth, but Art Collector rolled by a 7 1/2-length margin over a sloppy oval in his juvenile finale (disqualified and placed last afterwards for a post-race drug violation).
Transferred to Drury over the winter, Art Collector opened his 3-year-old season with a rallying 2 3/4-length score over entry-level allowance rivals at 7-furlongs in mid-May, and switched tactics to post a spectacular wire-to-wire allowance tally at 1 1/16 miles on June 13, registering career-best BRIS Speed (103) and Late Pace (114) numbers for the 6 1/2-length decision.
Art Collector continued to move forward while stepping up in class in the Blue Grass, and he’s now earned $548,475 from an 8-4-1-0 record.
“It took me my whole life just to get to this one win,” Drury said when asked about the Kentucky Derby. “I’m going to enjoy this one and we’ll worry about that tomorrow.”
Out of the stakes-winning Distorted Humor mare Distorted Legacy, who relished longer distances finishing second in the 1 1/4-mile Flower Bowl (G1) and a close fourth in the 1 3/8-mile Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) in 2011, Art Collector hails from stamina-infused bloodlines. Sire Bernardini won the Preakness (G1) and Travers (G1), and Distorted Legacy is a half-sister to Grade 2 winner Vision and Verse, a close second in the 1999 editions Belmont Stakes (G1) and Travers (G1).
Hernandez was asked if he had any hesitation about Art Collector getting the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby distance.
“No,” the jockey said. “You see him today going a mile and an eighth. 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.”