Art Collector paints masterpiece in Pegasus World Cup

Art Collector paints masterpiece in Pegasus World Cup
Photo: John Voorhees / Eclipse Sportswire

Hallandale Beach, Fla.

Sometimes a change of scenery can do the trick. Maybe a change of tactics. For Art Collector, it was all that plus a change of trainers, a change of racing plans and finally a change of riders.

“I knew when we turned for home, I saw him on the outside, and I said this race is over,” breeder and owner Bruce Lunsford said Saturday night after Art Collector (15-1) took the lead at the top of the stretch and drew away to a 4 1/2-length victory in the Grade 1, $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park.

The 6-year-old horse by Bernardini has come a long way since he was winning the 2020 Ellis Park Derby for trainer Tommy Drury. Even since he scored in the 2021 Woodward (G1) after he had been moved to the barn of Hall of Famer Bill Mott two years and 11 races ago.

Mott gave a great deal of credit Saturday to Júnior Alvarado, who put Art Collector in third place through the first six furlongs of the 1 1/8-mile race. It proved to be the sweet stalking spot to hunt down Defunded (5-2), who was second through the whole race, and Stilleto Boy (45-1), the early pacesetter who finished third.

It was Alvarado’s first ride on Art Collector, who had been paired most of the last two years with jockey Luis Sáez.

“His previous jockey had selected another horse,” said Mott, referencing Sáez’s ninth-place ride on Get Her Number (25-1). “We went to Júnior. ... I’ve really got to give him a lot of credit. He rode the horse perfectly. We talked about it beforehand, how the race might shape up, and he rode him just the way we scripted it. You know, it turned out great.”

Alvarado also had Grade 1 triumphs for Mott last year with Olympiad, Speaker’s Corner and memorably in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with Cody’s Wish. Breaking Saturday from post 6 in the field of 12, he took Art Collector on a four-wide trip around the first turn, leaving a lot of others to jostle for position in his wake.

“He has speed, and I just tried to use it enough to make sure I ended up where I wanted to be,” Alvarado said. “I didn’t just want to leave the gate and just take whatever was left. I was going with a mission to make sure I had a stalking position. That’s what we kind of planned. When I asked my horse at the beginning of the race, he was there for me, and he allowed me to put myself in a good spot throughout the race.”

Mott doubled down on how important it was for Alvarado not to spend Art Collector too soon. What he did not say was how the horse went out too fast, too early, when he set the pace before finishing fifth last out Oct. 1 in the Lukas Classic (G2) at Churchill Downs. He did not mention Sáez by name, but the tactical point was clear.

“I think it was the job that Júnior did reserving him early,” Mott said. “We were up close, but he was comfortable all the time. I mean he has tactical speed, but I don’t believe he’s a horse that needs to be ridden to the front end.”

It turned out this was the first time in eight races that Art Collector was not in first or second through the first half-mile. Instead of establishing fractions of 23.55, 47.94 and 1:11.77 as he had in the Lukas Classic, he sat as many as two lengths off Stilleto Boy’s 23.61, 47.71 and 1:11.82.

By the eighth pole, Art Collector was in the lead through a first mile at 1:36.65 on the way to a winning time of 1:49.44 on the fast, main track.

Even though 5-year-old gelding Defunded came up short in his bid for a third straight win, assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said he was happy.

“He pretty much did what he needed to do,” said Barnes, who was in Florida on behalf of his boss Bob Baffert. “He just got beat by a good horse. Art Collector is a seasoned veteran. Other than winning the race, second was good enough for me.”

Post-time favorite Cyberknife (2-1), who won two Grade 1 races last year, never was closer than 3 3/4 lengths at any call of his sixth-place finish.

“He didn’t look like he fired to me,” trainer Brad Cox said. “He had a little bit of a wide trip, and at the three-eighths pole I could kind of tell he wasn’t traveling. He broke well (from post 10), but they got away from him. It reminded me a little bit of the race at Parx when he ran third there (in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby). It wasn’t to be. It didn’t work out.”

“I could tell already at the half-mile pole,” Cyberknife’s jockey Florent Géroux said. “I knew he was pretty much done. He’s a horse that usually travels great and likes to do it on his own.”

For Mott the Pegasus triumph was especially gratifying, since he had not originally intended to have Art Collector on a three-month break. Quite the opposite. After the Lukas Classic, he had penciled in dates in November at Aqueduct and late last month at Gulfstream Park.

“Originally we were thinking of the Cigar Mile (G1) with him,” Mott said. “At the end of October, he had a foot abscess, so we had to scrap all our plans. I told Bruce, ‘Well, we’re going to miss that. Let’s go to Florida.’ We had the option of the Harlan’s Holiday (G3) and then the Pegasus. We didn’t really fell we had him quite right for the Harlan’s Holiday a month ago. We just waited, and Bruce was fine with running him straight away in the Pegasus.”

Three bullet workouts at nearby Payson Park replaced the missing races, so Mott felt Art Collector was more than ready for the Pegasus.

“The horse was obviously fine with it,” Mott said. “He allowed us to get some good training in him. We had a good serious of works in him, and he was feeling good.”

Mott said this experience showed him Art Collector will not mind a good break, so he ruled out racing next month in the Saudi Cup (G1) or in March in the Dubai World Cup (G1).

“We know this horse runs fresh,” Mott said. “We’ll talk this week, make sure the horse comes back good, and I guess we’ve got to make that decision.”

For Lunsford, who came up short in his runs for Kentucky governor and the U.S. Senate, the ride with Art Collector has been eventful in its own ways.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in my life watching things happen that hit me in the gut,” Lunsford said. “I come back later, because I never let them get me down. It’s made my life a lot better. This case was just one more example of that.”

Top Stories

The longest of the Kentucky Derby preps at the Pre...
Country Grammer goes for his second Grade 1 Dubai...
This week Art Collector finally gets the spotlight...
A Triple Crown nominee trained by Brad Cox is amon...
The Group 2 UAE Derby long has been an important r...