(Art Collector / Photos by Holly M. Smith)
(Bruce Lunsford, owner of Art Collector / Photos by Holly M. Smith)
We are now embarking on a new “feature” that we hope to continue each Monday for the remainder of 2023. We are calling it “McLean’s Monday Musings & Muck Pit.”
It’s some of our thoughts and reflections about what has happened in the horse world over the past weekend, and, perhaps over the past week. Some are good thoughts. Some may be afterthoughts. Some may call them our “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” thoughts. And, yes, some will be our figurative “pitch fork tosses” into the proverbial “Muck Pit.”
So, without further adieu, here’s our inaugural pitch (and some fork):
Art Collector: A Great Story
Every Saturday morning, our crack team — led by our wonderful friend and broadcasting super star Dave Baker — posts our weekly podcast on this very site. We call it our “Saturday Racing Preview Show,” for obvious reasons more than our lack of creativity. (Well, maybe a little of the latter, too.)
This past week’s Saturday morning version focused primarily on the $3 Million, G1 Pegasus World Cup that was held at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. Per normal, we chatted about the horses and some of the key ingredients in the race. And at the end of our discussion, “Bakes” asked his normal and customary question:
“Well how are you playing it?”
I said that I am keying on Art Collector. And, I gave my reasons.
I hope you were listening in. Art Collector went off at odds of 15-to-1. And, as you probably know by now, Art Collector won for trainer Bill Mott, jockey Junior Alvarado and, mostly, for long-time friend/owner Bruce Lunsford.
Ching. Ching. Ching. A nice pay day for Team McLean. And, while that victory was very rewarding and makes one very happy, the big win was more than just pure dollars to the Twin Spires account, too.
It was personal, in a way.
What you probably don’t know is that Bruce Lunsford is a friend. My friend. Our friend. This industry’s friend. The horse’s friend.
You see, Bruce Lunsford was and is one of the first people to invest in The Louisville Thoroughbred Society, and one of the very first people to support our massive project to bring a first-class, premium and stylish private membership club — dedicated to promoting the Thoroughbred industry — to downtown Louisville.
Back in the early days when most could only see a hallow, cold shell of a vacant old building, Lunsford saw our dream and commitment. Back in the beginning, when few would offer either moral or financial support, Lunsford lent both his name and dollars. Back when things were bleak, Lunsford was bold.
He was a believer. He was a dreamer. He helped make LTS happen. He is an investor.
In addition, what you may not remember is that Bruce Lunsford was also a candidate for Governor of the Commonwealth on a couple of occasions, and once ran with my friend and former Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo for the state’s highest office. He lost in the primary to Steve Beshear, who went on to become Governor long before his son, Andy, was elected to the same position.
While you may or may not have supported Bruce’s candidacy or believed in his leadership abilities is immaterial. Back in those days, when Kentucky truly did need a visionary; an economic compass; a change of direction of both philosophy and judgment, Lunsford was bold. He jumped in. He gave it a shot. He was willing to try.
He was a believer. He was a dreamer. He was willing to be a leader. And, then, too, he invested. Millions.
On both of those occasions, Bruce Lunsford led with his chin and his wallet. He led with his heart. He wanted to make a difference. So, he led.
What you may have forgotten, too, is that in the year 2020, Bruce Lunsford and his prized Art Collector — a horse whom Lunsford had bred, foaled and raised — looked like they were both poised to make a serious run at the world’s most sought-after race — the Kentucky Derby. The duo had won the prestigious Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Ellis Park Derby in their final two major preps. Only a few short weeks separated them from a shot at glory and destiny in the Kentucky Derby — which had been postponed until September due to the outbreak of Covid.
All the plans were made. All the signs were “go.”
Until the horse’s final major prep before the Derby. Apparently during that fateful morning breeze, Art Collector nicked the “bulb” of his left front heel with a hind hoof while galloping at Churchill Downs. In short, the horse “grabbed himself.” It was not and never was a major injury. But it was an uncomfortable and nagging one. And, due to the fact that the Derby was just a few days away, the connections could not treat the horse with anti-inflammatory drugs and still race.
So, sitting days away from a possible shot at a “dream come true,” what did Lunsford do? He listened to his trainer at the time, Tommy Drury. He decided to skip the biggest race of his life and the one that he always dreamed of winning. He decided to give the horse some time off to heal his heel. He decided to do the right thing. For the horse. By the horse.
He believed it was the only thing to do. He invested in the horse’s future. He dreamed of better days to come. Eventually.
On Saturday, and on one of racing’s biggest stages, Bruce Lunsford did it again. He entered his very own colt Art Collector in the $3 Million, G1 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park. At the end of the race, he walked onto the track and grabbed ahold of the reins and led his prized horse into the winner’s circle.
While many did not believe that Art Collector had much of a shot or a chance; while many dismissed the colt’s abilities or his resume; while most simply didn’t believe that the colt would or could be much of a factor, Bruce Lunsford was game enough to give both his horse and fate a chance.
He was a believer. He was a dreamer. He became a huge winner.
It was proof positive that good things do come to those that wait; have patience; believe and do right by their horse.
It was great that a 6YO horse — who may stay in training for awhile longer, too — can become a fan’s favorite; a horse to root for and follow; a possible champion of the future.
It was great for Art Collector. It was great for Bruce Lunsford.
And, it was even greater for the sport.
It gives us all a reason to dream. It gives us all a reason to believe. Good horses and good people do, sometimes, finish first.
Tommy Drury: A Great Horseman
One of the primary reasons that Art Collector is still around and winning races today is due to trainer Tommy Drury, who used to tend to the colt when he was a youngster and calling Kentucky home. At least, that is my opinion.
When Drury took over the colt’s training in his 2YO year, the horse had plenty of promise and was long on talent. But he was short on experience and mentoring. The horse had the talent. He had a ton of speed. Yet, he had much to learn.
No better teacher in the world than Tommy Drury, one of the best hard-boot trainers in the game today. No better mentor than Tommy Drury, who never misses a single day at the barn and never misses a single thing with his horses. No better horseman in the world, to be honest, than Tommy Drury.
When Art Collector turned up with the sore heel following his last work before the 2020 Kentucky Derby, some trainers may have convinced the owner to soldier on; never look back; to run and hope for the best.
Not Tommy Drury. He wanted what was best for the horse; not him. He knew what was right and told the owners so.
When Art Collector was turned over to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and kept in New York to race primarily, some trainers may have sulked and sullied. Some trainers may have pouted and wished ill-will.
Not Tommy Drury. He loved Art Collector when he had him, and when he hasn’t. He has never stopped. Not then. Not now.
When Art Collector won on Saturday, there was some shocks and some waves. Most people doubted the horse’s ability. Most people were shocked.
Not Tommy Drury. He helped the horse when he needed it the most. And, he knew the talent on the outside and the heart on the inside. He believed.
When the winning was won and the celebration was done, many former trainers may have claimed some credit; may have taken to social media and waved some flag of acknowledgment.
Not Tommy Drury. He is a quiet man. He is a horse’s man. He is just a horseman.
And, both Lunsford and Art Collector are better today for their time together.
- Luis Saez is, in my view, the best jockey in the world today. If I were Brad Cox, or any other top trainer in the world, I would have him on speed dial.
- If you don’t know the name of apprentice jockey Walter A. Rodriguez yet, you are missing out. The young rider is making a name for himself at the new and improved Turfway Park. Since Jan. 1, the man has 89 mounts and has a record of 19 wins, 13 seconds an 10 thirds. His win percentage is over .21% and his horses have hit the board over .47% of the time. Now has more wins this meet that perennial top rider Gerardo Corrales. Take note.
- Jose Nava-Marin is a new name and face to join the rider colony at Turfway Park. And, it was so fun to watch him win his first race on his mount and the Florence, KY track this past week. When the rider — who has begun his career at Emerald Dows in Washington and Turf Paradise in Arizona — crossed the finish line in front, he pumped his hand and riding crop as if he had just won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Emotion is a great thing. Happy for the young man. Hope more to come.
Muck Pit of the Week:
The G3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, which will be held at Santa Anita this next Saturday and is supposed to be a Kentucky Derby prep race, has 4 horses entered.
As in a quartet.
They are, from the rail out:
Hard to Figure…
The last horse’s name is so appropriate for this race and the state of racing now in California.
Hard to Figure.
And, to make matters even more shocking, if not worse?
All 4 are trained by Bob Baffert — the guy who is still suspended from Churchill Downs and whose horses cannot run in the Kentucky Derby unless they are transferred to someone else.
Hard to Figure.
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