Hall of Fame trainer trio adds Charles Town Classic intrigue

Edited press release

A trio of Hall of Fame trainers are sending runners to West Virginia Friday to compete in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic, which adds intrigue to an already interesting contest.

Bruce Lunsford’s Art Collector returns to Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races on Friday night as he looks to defend his crown in the track’s marquee event of 2022 – the $1,000,000 Charles Town Classic (G2).   

Trained by Bill Mott, Art Collector will look to replicate the path he took to West Virginia’s eastern panhandle in 2021, when he also captured the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga prior to his run in the Classic.  This year’s Alydar start was Art Collector’s first outing since he finished 12th in the $20 million Saudi Cup Feb. 26.

Art Collector didn’t disappoint in the Alydar, returing to action with a dominating effort that could have signaled a return to his 2021 form that saw him capture the Charles Town Classic and Grade 1 Woodward. 

“The Alydar was a good comeback for him,” said Art Collector’s Hall of Fame conditioner. “It looked like he did everything effortlessly. He came back out of it well. There’s no reason to think he’s not coming into the race as well this year as he was last year.” 

Much like Mott, Lunsford is confident in the way the five-year-old has exited the Alydar and is looking forward to getting back to West Virginia on Friday evening. 

“It was a little bit of a tough winter with him, but once we got him back over here, he’s been doing great. He actually ran better this year in the Alydar than he did last year. And he’s been training really well since, so we feel like he’s coming into the race great. He’s in good hands with Bill.” 

Art Collector will be trying to buck some recent history as the last eight horses attempting to win back-to-back Charles Town Classics have come up short, with the most recent being Sleepy Eyes Todd in 2021. The only horse to win the Classic in back-to-back years was Researcher, who won the first two runnings in 2009 and 2010.

Luis Saez has the return call on Art Collector and will leave from Post 4. Art Collector has been installed as the 6-5 morning line favorite.

Art Collector’s toughest competition is expected to come from Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stable’s multiple Grade 1 winner Mind Control, who is 2-1 on the morning line. Mind Control, a millionaire son of Stay Thirsty, has routinely made his mark in his career in one turn events with the highlights being victories in the Hopeful (G1) as a two-year-old and the Allen Jerkens (G1) in his sophomore campaign.  

But last time out in the Salvator Mile (G3) at Monmouth, the now six-year-old notched the first two-turn graded stakes triumph in his career by winning a stretch battle with the Grade 1 winning multimillionaire Hot Rod Charlie. That rival returned to be a good third in the Grade 1 Whitney behind Life Is Good.

While the Salvator Mile was his first graded win going two-turns, Mind Control tipped off his ability to go longer in his last start of 2021 – a win over Met Mile (G1) winner Silver State in the $200,000 Parx Dirt Mile. 

Taking a horse known more for his sprint prowess and stretching him out with success in the Charles Town Classic wouldn’t be something new for Pletcher who sent out Caixa Eletronica to a win ten years ago in the 2012 edition.  He would later win his second Classic with Stanford in 2016. 

Art Collector
Art Collector and Luis Saez won the G2 Charles Town Classic. Photo by Allison Janezic.

John Velazquez makes the trip down from Saratoga to ride Mind Control in the Charles Town Classic. 

Pletcher and Mott aren’t the only Hall of Fame trainers represented in the Charles Town Classic as legendary conditioner D. Wayne Lukas will saddle his first horse at Charles Town in twelve years when he sends out Willis Horton Racing’s Oaklawn Handicap (G2) upsetter Last Samurai (8-1).

Lukas himself is in the midst of a successful 2022 that’s seen him win the Kentucky Oaks (G1) for a fifth time with Secret Oath and the Adirondack (G3) at Saratoga with Naughty Gal and unleash multiple two-year-old’s with promise including impressive Saratoga maiden winner Bourbon Bash. 

As for his four-year-old son of Malibu Moon, he had struggled to find his niche, racing on both dirt and turf and at distances ranging from seven furlongs to 1 1/2 miles within the first ten starts of his career before eventually breaking through for his signature win in the $1,000,000 Oaklawn Handicap.  Last Samurai followed that win up with subpar efforts in the Stephen Foster (G2) and R.A. Cowboy Jones Overnight Stakes at Ellis Park, but looks to rebound on Friday night. 

Last Samurai’s regular pilot Jon Court has the call on Friday night and leaves from Post 3. 

The Charles Town Classic is scheduled as Race 12 on the card with a post time of 10:18 EST.