Story By Kellie Reilly/Brisnet.com
There’s something apropos about a colt named Art Collector liking to appraise himself in the mirror as a youngster. But the name of this Kentucky Derby (G1) contender has greater resonance, expressing historic legacies in both his pedigree and upbringing.
The Bruce Lunsford homebred was born and raised at Claiborne Farm, a veritable institution in the Bluegrass, from a female line cultivated in the last century by the renowned Greentree Stud.
Lunsford acquired Art Collector’s granddam, Bunting, from the complete dispersal of Greentree’s Mrs. John Hay Whitney at Keeneland November in 1994. Then a 3-year-old filly, Bunting offered the attractive combination of a Grade 1 placing on the racetrack and a deep pedigree. She accordingly sold for $500,000 to Claiborne’s Seth Hancock, acting as agent.
Second to future Hall of Famer Inside Information in the Ashland (G1), Bunting was bred on the same cross as another Hall of Famer, unbeaten Personal Ensign. Both were sired by Private Account from daughters of champion Hoist the Flag (the overwhelming favorite for the 1971 Kentucky Derby before sustaining a career-ending injury).
Bunting’s dam, Flag Waver, captured the 1983 Rampart H. at Gulfstream Park, becoming the third stakes winner produced by the influential Bebopper. That Greentree matron was more famous for her Grade 1-performing sons Hatchet Man and Stop the Music, who was perhaps best known for being awarded the 1972 Champagne upon the disqualification of Secretariat. Interestingly, both went on to become broodmare sires of Kentucky Derby heroes – a Hatchet Man mare was responsible for Strike the Gold (1991), and a daughter of Stop the Music produced Giacomo (2005).
Bebopper was herself by Greentree’s Hall of Famer Tom Fool. Her dam, French-bred *Bebop II, brought fine bloodlines from Europe where her half-sister Sun Cap took the 1954 Epsom Oaks. *Bebop II made her mark chiefly through daughters Bebopper and Stepping High, dam of Buckaroo (sire of 1985 Derby romper Spend a Buck).
Bunting wasted no time in adding her own chapter to the family lore, and giving Lunsford a classic campaigner. Her very first foal was Grade 2-winning millionaire Vision and Verse, who came within a head of upsetting the 1999 Belmont Stakes (G1). Vision and Verse was again a close second, to the same rival Lemon Drop Kid, in the Travers (G1).
Later, Bunting furnished another Grade 1-caliber runner for Lunsford in Distorted Legacy. A daughter of Distorted Humor (sire of 2003 Derby and Preakness [G1] champion Funny Cide), Distorted Legacy was a versatile type effective on dirt, turf, and Polytrack. Although her lone stakes win came on the Belmont main track, she reached a higher level of form on turf. Distorted Legacy rallied for second to champion Stacelita in the 2011 Flower Bowl Invitational (G1), and she was beaten only a length when fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1).
Distorted Legacy, an earner of $421,466 from four seasons of racing, retired to the broodmare life at Claiborne. She produced her first foal in 2016, a filly by Declaration of War named Soldier in Pink, and then visited champion Bernardini.
The resulting colt, Art Collector, arrived on Feb. 11, 2017. As a son of an A. P. Indy-line sire and a Distorted Humor mare, he is bred along similar lines to Constitution, the hot young sire of his Kentucky Derby rival Tiz the Law.
Art Collector had a kind, easy-going demeanor. So placid was he that even a child could have handled him, according to his yearling groom.
One of the colt’s favorite pastimes was gazing upon himself in the mirror in his stall – a piece of furniture left over from a previous occupant. Not that he offered much visual interest, for his fine bloodlines were concealed in otherwise unremarkable packaging.
That combination can turn out quite well though, as Claiborne President Walker Hancock noted.
“I remember him as a plain brown horse that was very athletic,” Hancock said. “He wasn’t flashy or never acted up so he wasn’t too memorable; however, funny enough, that is exactly how Blame was as a yearling too. It must be something about those horses that just go with the flow and kind of blend in with the herd.”
Blame developed into a champion older horse, and earned a unique spot in history as the only horse to defeat the mighty Zenyatta in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
Art Collector has another point in common with Blame, in that he too is improving with age. During his early education with Travis Durr at the Webb Carroll Training Center in South Carolina, he began to distinguish himself among his classmates.
“He was really a nice, big, pretty horse, easy to deal with, smart,” Durr recalled.
“He was easy to break. He was always just a horse that did his job and went home – no quirks.”
Art Collector’s calm temperament has translated into tractability for his rider.
“Anybody can ride that type of horse; he’s not aggressive,” Durr noted.
That trait has been observable in his races, with his ability to win from in front, stalking, or rallying from farther back. And although he started his racing career on turf, he’d shown aptitude on dirt from the beginning.
“He always got over the dirt real well here,” Durr said.
Thus Art Collector shaped as one with potential – if everything went well as he transitioned from his school days to the racetrack.
“He was just the kind of horse that stood out, that have a presence about them,” Durr summed up. “You remember horses that have that look.”
Now Art Collector is living up to that look, and the postponement of the Derby to the first Saturday in September has proven invaluable to the blossoming colt. After flashing talent as a juvenile for Joe Sharp, he’s 3-for-3 since switching to trainer Tom Drury, and handed him his first graded win in the July 11 Blue Grass Stakes (G2). His Keeneland triumph was a particularly meaningful victory for Lunsford and Drury, as native Kentuckians, but the Derby would be the pinnacle.
If Art Collector can curate the Kentucky Derby trophy, he’d become the 11th winner of the “Run for the Roses” to emerge from Claiborne’s storied pastures – an honor roll spanning from 1930 Triple Crown sweeper Gallant Fox to Orb in 2013. And Art Collector would restore Greentree’s old Derby legacy, going back to Hall of Famer Twenty Grand (1931) and Shut Out (1942).
That would be an accomplishment worth contemplating in the mirror.