Ellis Park Derby a reunion for Art Collector owner Lunsford

Ellis Park Derby a reunion for Art Collector owner Lunsford
Photo: Coady Photography

Bruce Lunsford grew up in Kenton County, where the local track in northern Kentucky is Turfway Park. Keeneland was a significant part of his education at the University of Kentucky. And Churchill Downs has been Lunsford's local track for most of the Louisville entrepreneur and philanthropist’s adult life.

But if not an actual homecoming, Sunday certainly will be a reunion of sorts when Lunsford’s 3-year-old colt Art Collector runs in the $200,000 Ellis Park Derby. A victory on top of his impressive triumph in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes likely will secure Art Collector among the top two or three choices for the COVID-delayed Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs.

Lunsford’s two best friends are from western Kentucky: Henderson's Bill Latta and Greg Hudson, who grew up in nearby Providence. Their friendship dates back 50 years, when the three men were Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity brothers at UK. In fact, his pals helped young Lunsford get hooked on horse racing at Keeneland, as well as through Hudson’s dad, George “Hoolie” Hudson, a horse owner and founder of the Hudson Automotive Group.

“Greg’s dad, Hoolie Hudson, who was really well-known in western Kentucky racing, that’s how I got my start,” Lunsford said. “We’d go out to the races, Greg and I, to watch his horses run and got to know a lot of people at that time. We had a lot of fun.”

Lunsford has noted that when he ran for public office, he always won in Henderson County. Now he couldn’t be more pleased than to share his stable star with the Tri-State region. Trained by Louisville's Tommy Drury and ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., Art Collector is the 4-5 favorite in a capacity field of twelve 3-year-olds, with a 13th entry needing a scratch to run in the 1 1/8-mile Ellis Park Derby.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever run in a stakes down there, but we’ve won a lot of allowance races over the years,” he said. “We had a horse called Cornstalk Road, Greg Hudson and I. It was one of our first horses, and every time he got near the track he won. It’s a good spot. I’ve had a lot of good friends who have died who lived down there and that I miss, two or three who would have loved to be there Sunday. But I’ve got a few left who are coming in. It’s going to be fun.” 

Lunsford said he was a bit surprised to have so many challengers but views it as the more the merrier when looking ahead to the 20-horse Kentucky Derby. It comes after Art Collector beat 12 rivals to win the Blue Grass by 3 1/2 lengths over the talented filly Swiss Skydiver.

“Here’s my view on it: We’re already in the Derby. We don’t have to break a neck to get in,” he said. “I’ve got a smart rider on him. We’re going to try to win — don’t get me wrong — but it isn’t as much pressure on us. I’ve looked at the horses in it. One of them is going to have to run a big race if we run our race, that’s all I’ll say. Like the horse from California (Anneau d’Or), I don’t really have any gauge on him. But there are about four horses in there who legitimately look pretty good.

“... What it does do is we’ve got to run against a bunch of horses. It gives Brian a lot more confidence and everything as far as riding him in a big crowd. At this particular point, we’ve won four races in a row, even though one of them didn’t count” because of a subsequent disqualification last year, “and we’ve done it pretty much our way. But he looks tremendous. I went out there this morning, and he looked like a dream.”

Lunsford has learned from many years of owning and breeding horses that “it’s a day at a time.”

“But we’re going to enjoy the ride, enjoy it 100 percent — Tommy is, I am and Brian," he said. "We’re all three going to enjoy it. This isn’t rocket science here. We’re running in a horse race. Nobody is dependent on whether they’re going to live or die if we win or lose. And we’re going to get to run Derby Day anyway unless he gets hurt. And I know he likes Churchill” where Art Collector cruised to a pair of allowance races this spring before the rescheduled Blue Grass on July 11.

2020 Ellis Park Derby (LS)

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