Kentucky Downs helped launch Derby contender Art Collector

Jennie Rees

Photos by Grace Clark/Kentucky Downs

Ellis Park Derby video
Brian Hernandez interview
Tommy Drury interview
Bruce Lunsford interview

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Monday, Aug. 10, 2020) — Kentucky Downs is well known for its unique all-grass boutique meet and having among the highest purses in the world and largest field sizes in America. Now the racetrack adds another distinction: as launching pad for Art Collector, winner of the first and — pending another once-in-a-century pandemic - only Kentucky Derby prep race ever at Ellis Park.

Louisville businessman Bruce Lunsford’s Art Collector, dominant winner in Sunday’s $200,000 RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Derby a month after taking Keeneland’s Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, earned his first career victory at Kentucky Downs in his second start, taking a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race last Sept. 5. The 3-year-old colt’s rise to being one of the top two or three choices for the Kentucky Derby could put him on the path to joining 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned and 1994 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner One Dreamer as Kentucky Downs-raced horses who go on to win among the world’s most important races.

Fort Larned won a Kentucky Downs allowance race in 2011, while One Dreamer captured the 1993 Rachel Jackson (the stakes now known as the Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf) and was third in the race the next year, after which she promptly won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at 47-1 odds.

Brian Hernandez Jr., Kentucky Downs’ all-time winningest jockey, rides Art Collector and rode Fort Larned.

The RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs will offer $12 million in purses and Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund (KTDF) supplements at the six-date session staged Sept. 7 (Labor Day), 9, 10, 12, 13 and 16.

“It just goes to show that our record purses attract outstanding horses, period,” said Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs’ senior vice president and general manager. “We might race only on turf, but that doesn’t mean we have only grass horses. We’re ecstatic to have played a role in Art Collector’s development into a top contender for the Kentucky Derby. He’s already the winner of the Grade 2 Blue Grass, and we’re confident it’s just a matter of time before Art Collector joins our extensive roster of Kentucky Downs-raced horses who win Grade 1 races on turf and dirt. We’d love nothing more than for that to happen on Sept. 5.”

Art Collector wound up the co-second choice in the final pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. Tiz the Law, winner of the Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes, is the even-money favorite, while Art Collector and Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A. P. are next at 8-1 among the 24 betting interests. The Future Wager closed Sunday before the Ellis Park Derby went off.

“This is huge. We’re going into the Derby now with a legitimate horse,” said Tommy Drury, who took over Art Collector’s training in January and now is 4 for 4 with the colt. “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.”

Art Collector started out on turf last year, when he was trained by Joe Sharp. The colt was switched to dirt after he finished seventh in Keeneland’s Grade 3 Bourbon on turf.

“Super-smart horse,” jockey Adam Beschizza, who was aboard Art Collector for the Kentucky Downs win, said before the Ellis Park Derby. “It just goes to show how talented he is. He’s just as good on turf as dirt, believe me. Listen, he has a huge, huge future. I think he is the real deal.”

Though Drury didn’t have Art Collector when the Bernardini colt ran at Kentucky Downs, the trainer is a huge fan of the track. The horses he plans to run at next month’s meet include Ellis Park debut winner Lady Edith in the new $400,000 The Untapable Stakes on Sept. 13 and Lunsford’s nice allowance filly Screenwriter, along with some unraced 2-year-olds.

“Look at the top horses that have run there,” said Drury, who was a close second in the 2018 One Dreamer Stakes with 9-1 shot I Remember Mama. “They’ve gone on to run on all surfaces. When you start giving the money away that Kentucky Downs does, guys are going to take a shot on the grass, believe me. Most of the 2-year-olds that come to me, they’re going to be more mid-summer horses, and every owner I’ve got says, ‘Do you think you can make Kentucky Downs?’ When it comes to September, that is absolutely the go-to spot for people in this area.

“Hey, maybe Bruce will come up with another Art Collector!”

Ellis Park’s five stakes Sunday and the quintet comprising Kentucky Downs Preview Day on Aug. 2 were funded in part by purse money and KTDF purse supplements generated at Kentucky Downs and transferred to Ellis’ purse account in an arrangement with the tracks’ horsemen’s group, the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association.

Another impressive winner Sunday at Ellis Park was Crazy Beautiful in the $100,000 RUNHAPPY Debutante. The 2-year-old filly won a mile maiden race on grass at Ellis before the stakes victory on dirt. Trainer Kenny McPeek said one option is to run Crazy Beautiful next in Kentucky Downs’ $500,000 The Mint Juvenile Fillies.

The free nominations for all of Kentucky Downs’ 16 stakes close on Wednesday, Aug. 26.