Art Collector
Art Collector at Pimlico before the 2020 Preakness. Photo Allison Janezic.

With back-to-back front-running victories last year in Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes (G2) and the Ellis Park Derby, Bruce Lunsford’s homebred Art Collector stamped himself one of the leaders of the three-year-old division.

In a 2020 racing season turned topsy-turvy by the COVID-19 pandemic, Art Collector stormed into an unusual October edition of the Preakness Stakes (G1) as one of the principal favorites. When the field crossed the finish line, however, Art Collector had checked in a dispiriting fourth, having never made the lead, the hallmark of his best efforts.

He went on to the Breeders’ Cup and was a well-beaten eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), and when he returned to the races seven months later, this past June, he was off the board again in the ungraded Kelly’s Landing at Churchill Downs.

Perplexed, Lunsford decided to shake things up and sent the son of Bernardini to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott’s barn in Saratoga. On August 6, Art Collector raced for the first time under Mott and scorched a quality field in the Alydar Stakes, his imposing velocity back on full display.

Now, Mott will find out if Art Collector is all the way back, sending him out as the 5-2 morning-line favorite in a field of ten Friday night in the 13th running of the Grade 2, $800,000 Charles Town Classic for three-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles at Hollywood Casino at Charles Races.

The Classic, celebrating its 10th anniversary as Charles Town’s first graded stakes race, highlights a packed 13 race card that will see total purses top $2 million. Post time for the first race is 5:00 P.M.

Mott is one of the premier trainers in the history of racing, with more than $300 million in career earnings and horses like the great Cigar and Royal Delta on his resume.

Even after decades in the sport, getting a horse like Art Collector still excites him, and that he runs in the Classic off just three weeks rest – uncharacteristically short for Mott – is a sign of high confidence.

“We’re glad to have the opportunity to have a horse like him in the barn,” Mott said. “It’s nice to have a horse you can take to these kinds of races, and you have some sort of chance.”

He added, “It’s a little bit risky coming in on that short rest, but it’s a nice race to participate in and the purse money is very good. If we had another week it would be a lot better, but that’s the only drawback.”

Mott’s lone other Charles Town Classic starter, Ron the Greek, finished a close-up third behind Game on Dude and Clubhouse Ride in the 2013 edition.

Jockey Luis Saez, the leading rider this summer at Saratoga, will fly in for the mount.

The 10-horse field also includes defending Classic champion Sleepy Eyes Todd (6-1), the Brad Cox-trained Warrior’s Charge (3-1), and Rushie (5-1) for Preakness-winning trainer Michael McCarthy.