Wins Going Away
By Dick Downey
Photo by Coady Photography
On Sunday at Ellis Park, Art Collector won the Runhappy Ellis Park Derby at 2-5 odds after leading at every call. It was his fourth win in as many starts this year and moved him closer to a next start in the Kentucky Derby.
That four-race schedule, which started in about two weeks after the normal date for the Kentucky Derby, included the July 11 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in Art Collector's last outing, when he sealed his eligibility to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Today he added 50 Derby points to the 100 he earned by winning the Blue Grass.
After breaking well, Art Collector was ridden skillfully by Brian Hernandez, Jr. while doling out fractions of 23.33, 46.74, 1:10.70, 1:35.25. He finished in a sharp 1:48.02 while drawing off easily the best. The time was 42/100 of a second off a 32-year-old track record.
Art Collector was most closely pursued through the first half-mile by longshot Truculent and Ohio Derby winner Dean Martini. Attachment Rate, fifth at the first call, was fourth with five furlongs to go. From there, Truculent fell back badly. Dean Martini and Attachment Rate drew up almost even to challenge Art Collector leaving the turn. By the furlong pole, though, Art Collector led Attachment Rate by 1 1/2 length, and Necker Island, who was never far back in an initially bunched field, had passed Dean Martini to slip into third.
Art Collector extended his advantage in the final eighth mile while ridden out to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Attachment Rate. Necker Island was third, another 5 1/4 lengths back. Rowdy Yates passed tired horses to run fourth, beaten 10 1/4 lengths.
They were followed across the finish line by 6-1 second choice Shared Sense, who trailed the entire field early after breaking from post 12, Dean Martini, Winning Impression, Anneau d'Or, Sprawl, Trident Hit, Little Menace and early challenger Truculent. Rogue Element, who was also-eligible, was scratched.
Now it's on to the Kentucky Derby for Art Collector, trainer Tommy Drury and owner-breeder Bruce Lunsford, so long as things go well for the next 27 days. Art Collector has been based at Skylight Training Center and will return there initially for his Derby preparations.
The winner returned $2.80, $2.20 and $2.10. Attachment Rate paid $8.00 to place and $5.40 to show, and Necker Island's show payoff was $8.00.
An Ellis Park record $5,241,601 was bet on the 10-race card, eclipsing the prior record of $4,906,096 on Aug. 4, 2007, when Ellis Park was host to the Claiming Crown.
By Bernardini, whose progeny Lady Kate won the Groupie Doll Stakes one race before the Ellis Park Derby, Kentucky-bred Art Collector is out of the Distorted Humor mare Distorted Legacy.
He's now a winner of five races from nine starts, the last four of them after being transferred to Drury's barn, and the first one coming last September on the grass at Kentucky Downs.
Winning trainer Tommy Drury, Art Collector: "I walk out of the paddock and you’re 1-9 in the biggest race in the history of Ellis, at least to my knowledge. I’m surprised that my legs are still holding up underneath me. We wanted to get enough out of this without overdoing it. Brian even mentioned coming to the eighth pole that he was going a little too easy, so he let the reins out a notch just to let him finish on up. He was going away from the end of it and that’s kind of been him every race this year. That’s all you can ask of one. Every time we throw something at him, he answers the question and handles it with flying colors.
“I think we got what we were looking for. We’ve got good timing between now and the big race. First and foremost we want to make sure he comes out of the race okay, and we’re going to take care of him first and let the rest fall into place. Ideally, the timing will be good. We certainly didn’t have to over-exert ourselves today to get it done here. It’s the kind of race you want, if you’re going into a big one, this is the way you want to go into it.
“We need to make sure he’s okauy tomorrow, but I’m getting closer (to saying 'Kentucky Derby'). This has just been a, I can’t find the words for it, a dream come true. My daughter was here today and able to share it with me. This has been a lot of years of hard work, long days and tough beats. Today is why you keep coming back, that’s why you do it to get an opportunity like this and I’m just glad we were able to make the most of it.
“You know, I was staring at the ceiling at 2 o’clock this morning for the Ellis Derby, so I can only imagine. It’s fun though. It’s not so much that you’re nervous. I have faith in my ability. We know exactly where our horse was at. Everything that we’ve wanted him to do, he’s done. We’re going into the race exactly the way we want to go into it. But just to be in this situation and to get this kind of an opportunity and to have Bruce leave the horse with me. What do you say? The guy has given me the chance of a lifetime here.”
“They (team Tiz the Law) won their races in their home state. I know yesterday was a big race that meant a lot to them, just as today meant a lot to us. We have a lot of friends here at Ellis Park, and I think my second start in my life was here at Ellis. It’s been good for all of us. You can’t worry about anyone else. You just have to take care of your horse and make sure that your horse where it’s supposed to be and give them every opportunity. At the end of the day, may the best horse win the race.”
“He’ll definitely go back to Skylight (training center in Goshen, Ky.) tonight. He’ll be there for a few days and I’ll get with Bruce and we’ll map out a plan. We’ve been shipping to race. Going to Keeneland and coming here. After that last breeze at Churchill we’ve always brought him back to Skylight for that week leading up to the race. Nothing against Churchill, it’s just a little quieter at Skylight. He just enjoys that environment. There is plenty of green grass for him. This one will obviously be a little different. I was just trying to get through today, so we really hadn’t thought about it.
“I think (my dad) would be pretty proud. He did this his entire life as well. He’s not gotten close to the opportunities that I’ve gotten. I think he’d be pretty proud.
“I think I’m the only person in the world that’s found a silver lining to the covid mess. I really do. Maybe we’re not standing here today, if it weren’t for the covid stuff. I guess everything happens for a reason.”
Brian Hernandez Jr., winning jockey: “Our horse broke sharp, and I put him in the race. He was going quick enough but at some point I knew I’d be able to give him a breather. He was able to take a breather going into the second turn. And once he did that, I was pretty confident in him. From the stretch home he was in himself and cruising along. He seemed to enjoy himself. He went the mile and an eighth impressively today, and we’re looking on to the next one.
“I just let him out a little bit, just to let him cruise along. When I got to the eighth pole, I just clucked at him a little bit just to make him go on a little bit just because we need him to be ready for the next one. So we just wanted to get the right kind of race into him, and that’s what he did today. He’s such a professional horse, and he showed it again today. He was able to go 46 2/5 on the lead and just able to widen on them again. It’s a testament to the horse how really good he is. That’s quick for a half, especially going a mile and an eighth. That’s really fast for a horse. And he was able to do it within himself. He traveled like a winner the whole way. We say that all the time, but being on their back we have an instinct to know how fast they’re going. That’s all I wanted to do: I just wanted to stay out of his way and let him travel.
“This is huge. We’re going into the Derby now with a legitimate horse. Like we said after the Blue Grass, he’s proven he’s getting better and better with each race. He showed it again today. He put everyone away. He did it all on his own and ran away from there. To be here at Ellis Park, it’s huge. This race means a lot to Ellis. And to ride here as often as I do, to be able to come in here with such a nice horse and he’s got so much press behind him now, to go into the Derby, it’s a great story for everyone. It’s going to be a historical race. First time ever Ellis Park holds a Derby prep.
“Tiz the Law will be the favorite. But everybody who’s going to be there in the Kentucky Derby, they’ve earned their chance. You have to go in there with an open mind and just read your race. The biggest thing we’ve done through this whole journey is we just have to trust our horse. Let him take us there, and that’s what he’s doing.”
Dale Romans, trainer, runner-up Attachment Rate: “I was very pleased with race he rode and the race he ran. Now we’ve got to figure out if that’s enough to get into the Derby. I would think 36. If we can get in, I’ve got to talk to Mr. Bakke (co-owner Jim Bakke). That’s the best race he’s run for us so far. That being said, we should probably try the Derby. Art Collector is a good horse. That’s great, it’s good for them to bring him down here. I’m not sure I’d have had the backbone to bring him down here and try him one time before the Derby. They showed a lot of confidence in the horse, and he ran a great race.”
Joe Talamo, jockey, runner-up Attachment Rate: “We had a great trip. Hustled him out of there just a little bit to get him into the race. I tell you what, at the three-eighths pole, I really had a feeling like I was going to win. He was running into the bit really well. Ran a really good race. I mean, hat’s off to the winner. He’s a really good horse. But I tell you what, I’m pleased with mine. He ran a good race in the Blue Grass last time and I think he ran an even better race today. He’s improving every race, which is what you want to see. How do you knock a horse like (Art Collector)? He’s pretty versatile. He’s won in front, come from behind. He’s a really good horse, for sure.”
Chris Hartman, trainer third-place Necker Island: “I thought he ran a credible race. Just in a little too deep. We didn’t have a real game plan after this race, so now we’ll figure something out, try to find a softer spot. I think everyone is happy with how the horse ran. He ran a good race. Art Collector is a really nice horse. Fun to watch him run here at Ellis, that’s for sure. That was a treat for those people here today.”
Florent Geroux, jockey on Shared Sense: “It was not a great post (12) for us. I had to break and take back and go all the way inside to save as much ground as I could because the turn was coming right away. I think it cost us maybe a place or two at the end. I’m not saying we would have won, but probably been involved for third or fourth. Since I was so far behind, it was hard to catch up.”
Winning owner Bruce Lunsford, Art Collector: “To start at the bottom of this that many years ago and get to this spot and have a Derby horse that’s actually a contender. I have a lot of respect for the Derby, and I had a lot of respect for the Blue Grass Stakes. I said I would never bring a horse to either race if I didn’t think I had a legitimate shot. I think after today that I have a legitimate shot. I’ll put these two (Hernandez and Drury) up against anybody else’s pair they’re bringing. This is a hell of pair, I can tell you that.
“If I go to my handicapping days, and I never take anything for granted, I was a little upset — as I kidded Brian — that we didn’t break the track record because we came within a fifth-second or so. And I feel pretty good about that. I look at the races that he’s run. I’ve seen a lot of good horses over the years come to Churchill Downs. I don’t necessarily think the horses he (Tiz the law) has run against are a whole lot better than what we’ve run against and that we’ve beaten handily.”