A horse that would not have made the Kentucky Derby field in the spring now looms as one of the favorites for a late-summer Run for the Roses.
Meanwhile, another trainer debates whether to race his star filly in the Derby or the Kentucky Oaks on the first weekend in September at Churchill Downs.
These were storylines emanating from the first July running Saturday of a major Derby prep.
Something had to give when two horses on three-race winning streaks faced off in the Grade 2 $600,000 Blue Grass at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. Art Collector gamely surged past Swiss Skydiver, the leading qualifier for the Grade 1 Oaks Sept. 4, and pulled away by 3 1/2 lengths.
The biggest victory of trainer Tommy Drury's career marked the fourth consecutive for the homebred Bernardini colt owned by Bruce Lunsford. Art Collector, formerly with trainer Joe Sharp, had won three straight at Louisville's Churchill Downs, most recently by 6 1/2 lengths over next-out Indiana Derby winner Shared Sense June 13. The Blue Grass winner stood 15 days from his 3-year-old debut on the original date (May 2) of the Kentucky Derby, which was moved to Sept. 5 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Art Collector, with Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard, went a fast-rated nine furlongs in 1:48.11 and paid $6.60 to win as the slight second choice. With 100 points, Art Collector is tied for third with Authentic on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard behind Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law and Honor A.P.
Swiss Skydiver, second by almost five lengths after leading from midway on the first turn until midstretch, came off graded wins in Florida, Arkansas (Grade 3 Fantasy) and California.
With Swiss Skydiver (310 points) solidly in the Oaks field, trainer Ken McPeek took a chance in the Blue Grass, which no filly had tried to win since 1944. The McPeek-trained Envoutante, a last-out winner at Churchill Downs, finished a distant third to Oaklawn-raced Speech in the Grade 1 Ashland earlier Saturday at Keeneland.
With her Oaks points nontransferrable, Swiss Skydiver earned 40 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. Oaklawn winner Rushie gained 20 for placing third and Enforceable 10 for his fourth-place finish.
Oaklawn winners Mr. Big News were sixth, Finnick the Fierce seventh and Arkansas-bred Man In the Can last of 13 in the Blue Grass. Oaklawn-raced Basin, a Grade 1 winner at 2, placed 10th.