Hallandale Beach, Fla.
Future plans for Art Collector always have been fluid. And that has been just fine for his breeder-owner Bruce Lunsford. He has learned in so many walks of life that flexibility is a virtue.
“There’s always tomorrow,” he said Saturday night after the 6-year-old horse’s biggest triumph came as a 15-1 long shot in the Grade 1, $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park. “Look ahead. Don’t get caught up in the back. And we didn’t.”
Click here for Gulfstream Park entries and results.
Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who took over the training 1 1/2 years ago, reported that Art Collector came out of his 4 1/2-length victory in good order.
“He looks great,” he said Sunday morning from Payson Park Training Center, about 90 miles north of Gulfstream Park. “My thoughts are with what we saw yesterday and what a wonderful race he ran. It was just a huge effort on the right day in a big race, probably one of the biggest races in the first quarter of the year for domestic racing.”
RACE COVERAGE: Art Collector paints masterpiece in Pegasus.
There were no immediate plans for what race will be next for the 6-year-old horse by Bernardini. A return to the Middle East was ruled out Saturday night, and Mott said Sunday “we haven’t talked anymore” about a potential springtime target.
Long before Art Collector made his successful journey with Mott to the Pegasus winner’s circle, he was supposed to have a turf career with Joe Sharp. Then blue-sky hopes for the May 2020 Kentucky Derby took a COVID turn to trainer Tommy Drury. Derby dreams looked real that September, until a minor heel injury provided a rude awakening.
Then came three out-of-the-money finishes. Mott got the call in the summer of 2021 to take on Art Collector. Grade 1 success followed that fall in the Woodward. So did Grade 1 failure in the Saudi Cup last winter. First-place results in the last two runnings of the Charles Town Classic (G2) were offset by a sixth-place finish in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Classic and a fifth-place outcome nearly four months ago in the Lukas Classic (G2).
Now the roller coaster is back at its apex.
“I knew we could figure out a plan,” Lunsford said. “I knew he was better than a few of those races.”
There was a change of jockeys. When Luis Sáez went a different direction for the Pegasus, Mott called on Júnior Alvarado. Perhaps more important, though, was his decision to tweak Art Collector’s racing style.
“He has tactical speed,” Mott said, “but I don’t believe he’s a horse that needs to be ridden to the front end.”
So instead of setting the pace as he had in his last three races as a 5-year-old, Art Collector was fourth after the first quarter-mile of the nine-furlong race. The last time he did not hold the lead through the first six furlongs of a race was 11 months and 7,500 miles ago. That was back when he was breathing in the right ear of frontrunning Secret Ambition before wilting to finish 12th in the Saudi Cup.
“It’s all about saving energy, you know what I mean?” Mott said. “You can’t expel everything early in the race.”
Stalking instead of front-running. Alvarado instead of Sáez. Mott instead of Drury. And because of a foot abscess diagnosed three months ago, the Pegasus instead of the Cigar Mile Handicap (G1) or the Harlan’s Holiday (G3). Sometimes being malleable is beneficial. So, too, is patience.
“Look, Tommy Drury is a great, great guy, and he did a good job for me,” Lunsford said. “I wanted to get into Bill’s hands, because I thought I had a pretty good horse.”
Putting his money where his mouth is, Lunsford said he continues to reward Drury as if he were still an active part of the Art Collector team.
“He still gets a piece of the pie,” Lunsford said. “He gets to share with Bill and I, and it’s just great. We have a great relationship now. He’s rooting hard for us. He’s got a daughter in college, so he wanted to win, too. Everybody’s happy.”
Drury still trains for Lunsford, notably looking after a 4-year-old homebred Into Mischief colt who was an allowance winner last fall at Churchill Downs. Legionnaire is out of Distorted Legacy, making him a half-brother to Art Collector.
So, too, is 3-year-old Classic Legacy, who broke his maiden with Alvarado last month, racing in the slop at Aqueduct for Mott.
“Legionnaire is going to run again in a couple weeks,” Lunsford said. “And Classic Legacy is going to run in something in the next two, three, four, five weeks. Whatever Bill decides.”
Lunsford clearly values his long alliance with Mott, especially for his guidance and counsel through the bumpy ride with Art Collector.
“Bill and I go way back,” he said. “I have great confidence in him. When he felt we could run, continue to run, and then when we had these little stumbles getting here, I was completely comfortable. We were OK. Nothing to lose. Let’s go for it.”
It has been nearly 40 years since Lunsford made a name for himself not just as a lawyer but as a businessman. He has had experience in starting a Fortune 500 company and in bankruptcy. He became a prominent Democrat in Kentucky who ran for governor and for the U.S. Senate, only to lose by six percentage points to Republican Mitch McConnell.
Horse racing might provide its own ups and downs, but Lunsford, 75, has been there and done that.
“It’s great to have people in anything you do in life that are as good as Bill and as Júnior was today,” he said. “I love that. That’s more important to me than anything else I do, except when my kids score a winning goal or do something big time. Or I get another grandchild. That’s pretty high caliber at that point, I would say.”
Lunsford remembered one more thing about winning a race that brought him a $1.68 million payday.
“I think I’ve got my expenses covered for this year.”