Art Collector repeats in G2 Charles Town Classic

On a night when it hosted a pair of lucrative graded stakes on the same card for a third straight year and welcomed a trio of Hall of Fame conditioners for its main event, Charles Town presented the latest renewal of the Grade II, $1 million Charles Town Classic for older horses which highlighted Grade 1 runners and a talented local state-bred star.

Defending champion Art Collector, trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott, who earlier on the card had saddled Frank’s Rockette to a sharp score in the $250,000 Misty Bennett Pink Ribbon Stakes for fillies and mares, was made the 1-2 favorite under jockey Luis Saez, while multiple Grade 1 hero Mind Control was the solid second choice for Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher. A third Hall member, D. Wayne Lukas, sent Last Samurai for the event.

For local interest, West Virginia-bred hero Muad’dib sought to put his unblemished 10-for-10 record on the line in his first outing against open stakes foes.

When the gates opened in the latest renewal of the Charles Town Classic, Art Collector broke very alertly and Muad’dib was away well to sit just off the favorite’s flank through the first turn. Those two were heads apart through a half-mile in 48.70 seconds and three quarters in 1:13.16, with Jalen Journey in close attendance at both markers.

Mind Control, the 3.30-1 second choice behind odds-on Art Collector, had a stumbling break and was reserved well off the early tempo, although he would make his presence known in the lane despite the early miscue.

Art Collector and Muad’dib were one-two entering the back lane the final time after shaking loose from Jalen Journey, but entering the far turn the favorite had begun to shake loose from the state-bred star.

Art Collector edged clear in the final furlong to a 4 ¼-length score while stopping the timer in 1:51.30 for the nine furlongs on a fast main track. Muad’dib outlasted the late, wide surge of Mind Control for the place spot in a superb effort in his first outing against graded stakes foes.

“My horse broke really sharp tonight,” winning rider Saez said of Art Collector. “I think me and [Muad’dib] were basically on cruise control through the first three-quarters, but I wanted to get a little breathing room on the far turn. I asked him a little bit and he responded. He’s a real nice horse to ride. I want to thank Mr. Mott and Mr. Lunsford for the chance to ride this horse. He’s a pleasure to ride.”

“He got a little more pressure early then I thought he would,” Mott said. “But that West Virginia-bred ran a big race. He was right there with us until the far turn.” 

Art Collector
Art Collector won the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic. Photo by Allison Janezic.

A year ago Art Collector won this race and followed that up with a win in the Grade 1 Woodward at Belmont Park. This year his schedule has been quirkier, as, after a poor outing in the $20 million Saudi Cup in February, he didn’t race again until an August 4 win in the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga.

“tThis horse had to overcome a lot. We basically got stuck in Saudi Arabia for an extra month and then I had to be patient with him,” Mott said. “That Alydar came up at the right time and it set him for this race again. This is a nice race. It keeps a lot of owners in the game. I am really not sure what he’s got next, but I’ll let him tell us when he’s ready.”

Art Collector now has 10 wins and more than $2.3 million in the bank from 19 career starts for owner Bruce Lunsford. He is a Lunsford homebred son of Bernardini. He also became the second horse to win back-to-back editions of the Classic.

“I usually don’t have a lot of luck when my horse is 1-2 [favorite],” Lunsford said. “Tonight he broke well and that local horse stayed with him most of the way. I thought that horse ran a nice race. Art Collector has been good to me these last two years and it helps my mare [Distorted Legacy, by Distorted Humor]. I am not sure what Bill has in mind for him next, but I will leave him with that decision. I don’t know if I want to face Flightline or Life Is Good right now, but it looks like he could see them at some point.”

Muad’dib had won all 10 of his previous starts over the strip, including both the West Virginia Breeders Classic and the A Huevo Stakes at the nine-furlong distance. On Friday night he stayed alongside Art Collector for much of the race and still held the place spot even after the odds-on choice began to edge clear. 

A five-year-old Fiber Sonde gelding and full-brother to multiple graded stakes winner Late Night Pow Wow, Muad’dib finished a game second in his first career defeat for trainer Jeff Runco and owner David Raim and will likely be the odds-on favorite in his West Virginia Breeders Classic title defense in six weeks’ time.