Tom Drury says that when Art Collector came to his barn in January, he really didn't know much about him.
Then, after watching his races and seeing him progress in training, "you just couldn't help but to like what you see."
But did he think he had his first Kentucky Derby contender? "We were thinking stakes quality, and then it's like once we got him back to the races and we got that first start under our belt, it's like the light switch came on," Drury said Tuesday during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association media call ahead of Art Collector's Sunday Start in the Ellis Park Derby.
"And he just really started going the right way," Drury said. "And we were a little late getting to the party, so we’ve really needed every little thing to kind of fall in to place for us. And those of you that follow horse racing closely know that more often than not, that doesn’t happen. So to be where we’re at today, and to have won the Blue Grass, gosh, I’m still trying to find the words to describe it. It’s unbelievable.”
Art Collector's story became well known after the son of Bernardini scored in the Blue Grass at Keeneland — his fourth straight win, and the third this year. That earned him 100 points on the road to the Kentucky Derby, ranking the Bruce Lunsford homebred No. 5 on the leaderboard.
The Ellis Park Derby offers Kentucky Derby points on a 50-20-10-5 basis, but Drury sees Sunday's start in the 1 1/8-mile race as part of his conditioning.
“I felt like he needed the Blue Grass," Drury said. "That’s the first time this year that he had to really, I thought, run any at all. I felt like he needed that race. And I felt like one more, I think it’s probably going to be in his best interest.
"And again, (the Ellis Park Derby) is not a have-to-win, but it’s definitely a race that I think it’s going to help him to move forward. You talk about the next one, the water’s going to get really deep. You’ve got the big guns coming in for that one, and you’ve got to go a mile and a quarter — there’s a lot of new things that are going to be happening. And we just want to try to have our horse 110 percent for that one."
Asked about the field for Sunday's race, Drury said: "I think a lot of people are taking their final shot here and trying to figure out where they want to go with their horse. I don’t expect it to be a walkover by any means. I don’t think it’s going to be an easy race."
He cited as an example Shared Sense, trained by Brad Cox and beaten by Art Collector at Churchill Downs in June before going on to win the Indiana Derby.
"That horse … ran big in the Indiana Derby. I know we beat him at Churchill, but he came back and ran a big race in the Indiana Derby. So I certainly think, if we do win this thing, we’re going to have to work to earn it. You can’t really think about that. You’ve just got to kind of focus on your own horse and do the best you can with your own horse. And hopefully, we’ll get the trip and a fair chance to go win this thing."
Drury trained his first winner in 1991, and he was asked whether he had resigned himself to not getting a shot at the Kentucky Derby.
“When you’re 28, you’re thinking about winning Kentucky Derbys and Breeders’ Cups every day of your life," he said. "When you’re 48, your expectations are a little more realistic as to what your situation is.
"So I don’t know that I ever expected it, but this is all I’ve ever known, it’s all I’ve ever done in my entire life, and we’re having fun with it. Just trying to remind myself to enjoy it more than anything, just because it’s just the chance of a lifetime.
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