Blue Grass hero Art Collector to Ellis Park Derby

July 21, 2020

HENDERSON, Ky. (Tuesday, July 21, 2020) — Bruce Lunsford’s 3-year-old colt Art Collector, winner of Keeneland’s Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in his last start, is coming to the $200,000 Ellis Park Derby on Aug. 9, trainer Tommy Drury told the track.

The Ellis Park Derby, with its purse doubled and distance extended from a mile to 1 1/8 miles, this year is part of the official Kentucky Derby Championship Series. The Ellis Park Derby winner receives 50 points toward qualifying for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby, a number that virtually assures a spot in the 20-horse field at Churchill Downs. The runner-up receives 20 points, with 10 for third and five for fourth.

While COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the world, the pandemic did deliver the first-ever Kentucky Derby prep to Ellis Park’s summer meet because of the delay to America’s greatest horse race.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to even have the race to begin with,” said Jeff Hall, Ellis Park’s director of racing operations who has lived in Henderson most of his life and has worked for the track for around 30 years. “To have one of the top horses in the country coming here to run, right now is our time to shine with this. We couldn’t be more thrilled.”
Art Collector already has secured a spot in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby, thanks to earning 100 points with his July 11 Blue Grass victory under regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. 

Since that race, Drury and Lunsford have said that the options were to train the eight weeks up to the Derby or to run at Ellis Park. Shipping to upstate New York for Saratoga’s Grade 1 Travers on Aug. 8 was never under consideration for Art Collector, who resumed training last Wednesday at Drury’s major base at the Skylight Training Center in Oldham County.

“Bruce kind of left the decision up to me,” Drury said. “I felt we needed to go somewhere, and that was our only option. Before I said too much, I just wanted to make sure my horse came out of the Keeneland race OK and everything was in good order. Now that we’re back on the track and seeing him train, gosh, if anything it seems like he’s better. The timing of it is going to be good leading up to the Derby. That’s the ultimate goal, and we’re going to try to take our best shot.”

Drury is using the Ellis Park Derby for conditioning purposes, with hot weather expected to impact how he trains Art Collector in the mornings. The goal is to win the Ellis Park Derby but not to “gut” the horse in the process.
“The good news is that it’s not a have-to-win situation,” he said. “If at any point Brian feels like we’re not getting the trip or things aren’t going the way we need it to go, we don’t have to abuse him to win the race. We just want to get the race under our belt. This isn’t the long-term goal. This is just a steppingstone to get us there.

“If this was the fall of the year and we were having nice cool days, that puts a whole different spin on it. But being the time of year it is, taking the weather into consideration, I think we’re better off to go down and run the race one day. On the day-to-day type stuff, that’s going to allow us to keep him in the same routine he’s been in thus far.”

Lunsford and Drury are lifelong Louisvillians, while Hernandez has lived in the area since he began riding full-time in 2004. Lunsford also has a lot of close friends in western Kentucky.
“Bruce is thrilled,” Drury said of running in the Ellis Park Derby. “He’s a Kentucky guy and he wants to support Kentucky racing. He thought it was a great idea. Ellis Park has gone above and beyond to help the horsemen and to have their meet. Hopefully having a horse like Art Collector in their big race helps them a little bit. Hopefully it’s good for all of us.

“The ultimate goal is to run this horse the first Saturday in September, and this is a perfect steppingstone to get us there. The fact that we’re able to do it without leaving the state, that’s icing on the cake. Shipping around this time of year, it’s a little harder on horses. It’s hot, the humidity is up. It takes a little more out of them. To be able to zip right down the road, run your horse and have him sleep in his own stall that night, that plays as big a part in it as anything.”
Said Lunsford: “You could try to train him up to the Kentucky Derby. That’s a long eight weeks. You don’t want to start working horses quick; you might as well just have a race. We’ve got four weeks to get ready.

There are a lot of things I love about Ellis anyway, and it gives me a chance to give back. They’ve always been good to me. Every time I’ve been in politics, I’ve won every time in Henderson. I know a lot of people down there. And I think Brian and Tommy are excited about doing this.
“You know what? My goal is, if this horse is as good I hope he is, that we can kind of call this Louisville’s hope, all Louisville guys,” he said, jokingly adding, “It’s like a basketball game — I’d ask for a ‘white out’ for all the people for us. It could be fun.”

Photos: Brian Hernandez Jr. guides Art Collector to victory in Keeneland’s Grade 2, $600,000 Toyota Blue Grass. Coady Photography

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