Tommy Drury has confirmed that Art Collector is heading for an historic Ellis Park Derby run next month, much to the delight of officials at the Kentucky venue.
The Ellis Park Derby winner will receive 50 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby, with the runner-up also coming in for 20 points and third (ten) and fourth (five) also scoring.
Victory in the $200,000 August 9th event would all but assure a run in the Kentucky Derby, set to take place this year in a new September slot.
America’s greatest horse race was lost to the Covid-19 pandemic from is regular May slot, offering Ellis Park a chance to stage a qualifier as part of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series.
Jeff Hall, Ellis Park’s director of racing operations, knows the scale of having such an event and he’s thrilled to confirm Art Collector as an intended runner.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to even have the race to begin with,” said Hall, who has worked for the track for about 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.”
Victorious in the Blue Grass earlier this month, Art Collector’s Kentucky Derby passport is stamped and ready, but trainer Drury has nominated Ellis Park as the place he will complete preparations.
Travelling to New York for a Grade 1 via the Travers at Saratoga was soon scratched from those plans, while an eight-week lead in to ‘The Run for the Roses’ would be far from ideal.
Owner Bruce Lunsford has been content to allow his trainer make a final call on where to go next.
“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.”
Louisville-based trainer Drury hopes that his charge can win at Ellis Park, though he’s already keen to stress that the early August race is very much going to provide a stepping stone towards the bullseye target.
“The good news is that it’s not a have-to-win situation,” he said. “If at any point Brian (Hernandez, jockey) 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 stepping stone to get us there.”