For the second straight year, Art Collector found the Alydar S. at Saratoga a perfect rebound spot to get back on track. And once again, the Bill Mott trainee went wire to wire as the favorite with Luis Saez. An even shorter 4-5 shot in Thursday’s $130,950 renewal, Art Collector also padded his winning margin to two lengths.
There were two material differences, however, from last summer. In 2021, the Bruce Lunsford homebred was making his second start of the season, but first since switching to Mott. This time, Art Collector was resuming from a five-month layoff. The son of Bernardini had not raced since his disappointing 12th in the Feb. 26 Saudi Cup (G1).
His chief opponent had a recency edge. Grade 3 veteran Masqueparade, the 2.70-1 second choice, just captured a June 23 Churchill Downs allowance. That ended up not mattering, as Art Collector was too good.
Breaking from post 4 in a five-horse field, Art Collector traveled well within himself through fractions of :24.60 and :49.23. Masqueparade attended on the outside, until the leader began to get away by the six-furlong mark in 1:13.77. The rest soon would have difficulty keeping up with Masqueparade.
Art Collector widened his advantage in upper stretch. The dogged Masqueparade reduced the gap late, an effort assisted by Saez’s not pushing Art Collector. The winner negotiated 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.84.
The only drama, the photo for third, was unfolding another 7 1/2 lengths back. Chess Chief, the 29.25-1 longest shot on the board, nipped Mystic Night for the bronze medal. Bal Harbour trailed in his return from a seven-month spell. King Fury was scratched.
“He’s a pretty cool horse to ride,” Saez said of Art Collector. “He’s pretty smart. He broke and controlled the pace. He switched leads at the point he’s supposed to by himself, and he did everything beautiful.
“My plan was to break from there and if he took the lead I know he’s pretty fast, so if he gets the lead we’ll take it. If not, we’ll track somebody. He’s a horse that you can ride any way you break.
“That was what we tried to do with him,” Saez responded regarding the modest pace. “Tried to control the pace as slow as we can and everything came so perfect. When he came to the top of the stretch, I had so much horse he just kept going by himself.”
Mott offered similar comments about Art Collector’s tractability.
“We thought maybe if the outside horse (Masqueparade) wanted to go to the lead, we’d let him go and we’d have a target,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “But as it worked out, he was on the lead by himself. It looked like he was going easily enough and it looked like every time that horse (Masqueparade) ran to him, he just maintained the same advantage.”
Art Collector’s 2021 Alydar set him up for wins in the Charles Town Classic (G2) and Woodward (G1), and his 2022 agenda might have a familiar look.
“We might go to Charles Town, back in the Woodward,” Mott said. “Short term, we’re definitely thinking of going to the Charles Town Classic with him. That could change, I’ll talk to Bruce (Lunsford) and see what he wants to do. He was excited to go there last year; he might want to go back.”
Lunsford sounded on the same page about a Charles Town title defense on Aug. 26, while adding Churchill Downs to the mix for later.
“Charles Town makes logical sense,” the owner/breeder said. “What happens from there will speak for itself. I think it will be a good race this year. From there, we’ll pick our spots. I’m a Kentucky guy, so we could maybe wind up going to the Lukas Classic ([G2] on Oct. 1) or the Clark ([G1] on Nov. 25). We may be there, but Bill will make that decision.”
Art Collector’s scorecard stands at 18-9-1-0, $1,729,555. The bay earned his first stakes wins for trainer Tom Drury, the Blue Grass (G2) and Ellis Park Derby, to become a prime contender in the pandemic-delayed 2020 Kentucky Derby (G1). Unfortunately scratched from the Derby with a foot issue, Art Collector went on to finish fourth in the Preakness (G1) and eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). After joining Mott and rattling off a stakes hat trick in 2021, Art Collector tried the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), but retreated to sixth behind Horse of the Year Knicks Go.
The Kentucky-bred is out of Grade 1-placed stakes heroine Distorted Legacy. The Distorted Humor mare is a half-sister to Grade 2-winning millionaire Vision and Verse, who missed narrowly in the 1999 Belmont (G1), from the further family of Stop the Music and Hatchet Man.