Stalks, Pounces, Draws Off
By Dick Downey
The Downey Profile
Photo by Coady Photography
When all was said and done, the top two horses in the betting were the top two at the finish line as Art Collector pulled away from the filly Swiss Skydiver to win the GradeI II Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at a virtually empty Keeneland.
Art Collector, Swiss Skydiver and Shivaree all broke from the gate alertly, and Shivaree led the way into the turn while the filly and Art Collector tracked closely. Into the backstretch, Swiss Skydiver and Shivaree briefly vied for the lead, but Mike Smith, aboard Swiss Skydiver, let Shivaree go and settled in an attending second with Art Collector and Brian Hernandez, Jr. just a length off the lead after a first quarter-mile run in 23.25 seconds. Swiss Skydiver wanted the lead and got it through a half-mile in 46.61 and six furlongs in 1:10.63 as Shivaree edged back to second, then third. In the meantime, Hernandez shifted Art Collector to the outside of Swiss Skydiver.
In the far turn, Swiss Skydiver put away Shivaree, but she found herself locking horns with Art Collector, to her outside at the top of the stretch. Art Collector stuck his head in front at the furlong marker and drew off to win by 3 1/2 lengths. He was timed in 1:48.11 for nine furlongs.
It was the fourth straight win for Art Collector, who has found his top form since being put on dirt after racing on turf his first three starts. After being disqualified for a medication infraction following the first of that four-win skein, owner-breeder Bruce Lunsford transferred Art Collector to the barn of Tom Drury, Jr. from the care of trainer Joe Sharp.
Drury, Lunsford and Hernandez now find themselves with a Kentucky Derby contender. Art Collector garnered 100 Derby points with the win of his first graded stakes race. Art Collector now has four wins from eight races and one second, and that doesn't count the race from which he was disqualified.
Swiss Skydiver, who is also Triple Crown-nominated, got her first 40 Derby points She has more than enough points to make the Kentucky Oaks and will probably be pointed to the that race. Hernandez rode her to victory in her last race but was committed to Art Collector for the Blue Grass, something he described as a tough choice.
Rushie, who was sixth by by 3 1/2 lengths after the first half-mile, made a wide move on the far turn but never challenged the top two. He hung on to finish third, beaten 8 1/4 lengths. With 20 points from the Blue Grass and 20 from finishing third in the Santa Anita Derby, Rushie now has 40 points overall -- but he wasn't nominated to the Triple Crown. He'll have to be supplemented to get in the Derby if he has enough points.
Enforceable, who was tenth during the first six furlongs, was also wide in the far turn and finished a neck behind Rushie for fourth and 10 Derby points, running his total to 43.
After the top four finishers came Attachment Rate, Mr. Big News, Finnick the Fierce, Tiesto, Hard Lighting, Basin, Shivaree, Hunt the Front and Man in the Can.
Art Collector and Swiss Skydiver were both 2-1 on the board, with the latter one barely favored in the win pool. The winner returned on $2 bets $6.60 to win, $4.00 to place and $3.20 to show. Despite her thin favoritism, Swiss Skydiver paid a bit better than the winner for place and show: $4.20 to place and $3.40 to show. Rushie, the third betting choice at 7-1, had a show payoff of $4.00.
Art Collector is a son of Bernardini out of Distorted Legacy, by Distorted Humor. Lunsford bred him in Kentucky.
Tom Drury: “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. He’s very versatile, very classy. He’s just the whole package. It took me my whole life just to get to this one win. I’m going to enjoy this one and we’ll worry about (the Kentucky Derby) tomorrow.”
Brian Hernandez Jr.: “We had picked Art Collector after his allowance race (last November). Kenny wasn’t sure if he was going to try the Blue Grass or the Ashland. And I was committed to Art Collector for the Blue Grass. We had a lot of confidence in Art Collector, but it just goes to show you what a tough decision it is. He’s a really good horse. If you go back and watch all his replays, he’s just a very athletic horse. I think one of the most impressive races he ran was the day at Churchill he got shuffled around and almost fell down. I almost pulled him up, but he ran again. From that day on, we always believed he was a really good horse. It’s been a fun ride. 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.”
Kenny McPeek, trainer of Swiss Skydiver: “She ran super. Art Collector was the horse I was worried about. He is obviously really good and really talented right now. I thought if she was going to get beat, it would be by him. I am happy for Tom Drury. He works hard, and he has been at it a long time. It was a great race. Her fractions were pretty taxing, but she is fast. She is so special. We might lean against going to the Derby. We might go to the Alabama and consider waiting for the Kentucky Oaks.”
Michael McCarthy, trainer Rushie: “Rushie ran very well. He got a little hung out wide in the first turn, and on the backside, heard (announcer) Kurt Becker say he was in the middle of the race track. He put in a nice run around the turn and seemed to be even through the lane, never really switching leads or anything like that. Any time you can go back to Keeneland and run third in you can’t really be too upset with that. We’re going to let him catch his breath and get his legs underneath him the next couple of days before we decide. We’ll let the dust settle and see what we want to do.”
Mark Casse, trainer of fourth-place finisher Enforceable: “He ran well. I don’t think there is any secret out there that there has been a pretty good speed bias (today), and we had to run against it. We ended up fairly wide turning for home and it probably cost us third. But I just wanted a positive race and him finishing. I talked to Mr. Oxley beforehand and told him we don’t have to win, we just want a good race. Now what we want is for him to come out of this race and do well and we’ll figure out one more. I was proud of him today. He broke well, and that’s something we worked hard on because he hadn’t been breaking very well. It was a real positive race.”