Art Collector looked the part of a serious Kentucky Derby contender in Saturday’s Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland, running down Swiss Skydiver and drawing off to a 3 1/2-length victory. It marked the first dirt stakes appearance for the up-and-coming colt, who wasn’t in serious training for his 3-year-old season until April, and Art Collector improved to 3-for-3 this year for owner/breeder Bruce Lunsford and trainer Tommy Drury Jr.
After making his first three starts on turf, Art Collector switched to the main track last November. His Brisnet Speed ratings increased when stretching out to two-turn distances (103-104 last two starts), which makes sense given his stamina-infused bloodlines, and he’s also displayed improved tactical speed of late.
Brian Hernandez Jr. rides the son of Bernardini, and Art Collector has shown an affinity for the main track at Churchill Downs, crushing foes by a combined 16 3/4 lengths in three starts prior to the Blue Grass (disqualified once post-race). Drury will decide between using the Aug. 9 Ellis Park Derby as a final prep or training his charge straight up to the Sept. 4 Kentucky Derby. Either way, Art Collector is a candidate to keep moving forward over the eight-week interim.
The last three qualifiers in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series have been won by 3-year-olds who wouldn’t have made the Kentucky Derby’s original date (May 2). Along with Art Collector, Los Alamitos Derby (G3) victor Uncle Chuck and Indiana Derby (G3) winner Shared Sense have benefited from the four-month delay.
A late nominee to the Triple Crown, Uncle Chuck made a smashing career debut at Santa Anita on June 12, overcoming a poor start to win going away by seven lengths at two turns. The Uncle Mo colt improved to the 2-for-2 with a four-length romp in the 1 1/8-mile Los Alamitos Derby on July 4, netting a respectable 98 Brisnet Speed figure, and five-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert will send the hot prospect to the Aug. 8 Travers (G1).
Shared Sense was no factor when making his first start in a qualifier earlier this year, finishing sixth in the Smarty Jones S. at Oaklawn Park, and didn’t come on for Brad Cox until the last month. Unplaced when trying the turf in late May, the son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense switched back to dirt with an improved effort behind Art Collector in June 13 allowance at Churchill, outfinishing Finnick the Fierce (who was exiting a third in the tougher second division of the Arkansas Derby) for runner-up honors.
His progress was on display in the July 8 Indiana Derby, launching a bold move on the far turn and powering his way to a three-length decision, and Shared Sense registered a career-best 102 Brisnet Speed rating while establishing a new track record. He wasn’t nominated to the Triple Crown, but Godolphin can pay a $45,000 fee to make the homebred eligible for the Kentucky Derby. Shared Sense picked up 20 points for the Indiana Derby, and the Travers and Ellis Park Derby are options for his final prep.
A pair of Derby qualifiers will be offered this week, Thursday’s Peter Pan (G3) at Saratoga (points on a 50-20-10-5 scale) and Saturday’s Haskell (G1) at Monmouth Park (100-40-20-10).
Here’s my Kentucky Derby top 10:
- TIZ THE LAW: Belmont winner deserves top spot, Travers next; his lone loss coming at Churchill Downs a nagging concern
- ART COLLECTOR: Blue Grass winner peaking at the right time in an unorthodox season
- HONOR A.P.: Received 108 Brisnet Speed winning Santa Anita Derby; cuts back to 1 1/16 miles in Shared Belief
- UNCLE CHUCK: Unbeaten from two starts, exciting colt to face litmus test in Travers
- SHARED SENSE: Bore no resemblance to earlier season form winning Indiana Derby
- DR POST: Belmont Stakes runner-up will be formidable in the Haskell
- MAX PLAYER: Third in Belmont Stakes off a 4 1/2-month layoff; upside for Linda Rice
- SWISS SKYDIVER: McPeek mentioned Oaks after her clear second in Blue Grass, but it’s not written in stone; she possesses quality speed
- ENFORCEABLE: Signs of life rallying for fourth in the Blue Grass, Tapit colt packs a late punch
- CREED: Travers possible following two straight wins