Bill Mott sauntered down the steps at the end of Gulfstream Park’s truncated grandstand, to the ground level from the box seats after turning the seventh Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes into a showcase of his skills.
Binoculars in one hand and a program in the other, Mott walked past fellow horsemen and horseplayers, so-called influencers and other posers and didn’t pay much attention when one slightly inebriated fan summed up Art Collector’s off-the-bench upset performance.
“Easy,” the fan told a friend. “Best horseman in the race.”
Mott added the Pegasus to his exhaustive list of major stakes victories when he saddled Bruce Lunsford’s homebred 6–year-old to a 15-1 victory in the $3 million stakes. Art Collector won by a decisive 4 1/2 lengths over Southern California shipper Defunded, getting 9 furlongs in 1:49.44 in his first start since Oct. 1.
Mott originally considered Gulfstream’s Grade 3 Harlan’s Holiday – the top local prep for the Pegasus – as a potential restarting spot for Art Collector after he recovered from a foot abscess that ended his 2022 season earlier than planned. Not satisfied with Art Collector’s fitness before that New Year’s Eve stakes, Mott trained up to the Pegasus.
“You get the horse as good as you can and hope the horse shows up,” Mott said.
Art Collector did just that, tracking the early pace in the clear on the outside under Junior Alvarado and kicking away in the lane for his 11th victory in 21 starts.
A major player in the lead up to the pandemic adjusted 2020 Triple Crown for former trainer Tommy Drury, Art Collector showed up in Mott’s barn in the summer of 2021. He won three in a row off the Oklahoma Training Track, including the Grade 1 Woodward at Belmont Park to become a top candidate for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar.
Art Collector didn’t fire in the Classic, won by Knicks Go, and ran poorly again in the $20 million Saudi Cup last February before going to the sidelines again. Mott again brought him back at Saratoga and he won the Alydar Stakes for a second straight time before a second consecutive victory 22 days later in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic. A fifth in the Grade 2 Lukas Classic in early October at Churchill Downs took him off the Breeders’ Cup path, but Mott and Lunsford figured the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in December might be the perfect spot for Art Collector to end the season. A foot abscess shelved those plans.
“We had to scrap all our plans,” Mott said. “I told Bruce, ‘Let’s go to Florida.’ ”
The Pegasus marked Art Collector’s Florida debut. He’d trained the last two winters in the Sunshine State but hadn’t raced at Gulfstream in his 20 prior starts.
“We had the option of the Harlan’s Holiday and then the Pegasus. We didn’t really feel we had him quite right for the Harlan’s Holiday a month ago. We just waited, and Bruce was fine with running straight away in the Pegasus. The horse was obviously fine with it. He allowed us to get some good training in him. We had a good series of works in him, and he was feeling good.”
Art Collector breezed six times at Payson Park and came into the Pegasus a longshot despite his resume.
Squared off against a deep if not spectacular field that lacked the star power of previous editions blessed with the likes of California Chrome, Arrogate, Gun Runner, City of Light, Knicks Go and Life Is Good, Art Collector wound up the 10-1 co-fifth choice on the morning line. He went to the gate the sixth choice, behind the Grade 1-winnning quartet of Cyberknife, Defunded, Proxy and White Abarrio and Harlan’s Holiday winner Skippylongstocking.
Mott turned to Alvarado, who he teamed to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with Cody’s Wish, after Luis Saez opted to ride Get Her Number for California-based trainer Peter Miller.
Breaking from post six in the field of 12, Art Collector settled behind the pace set by longshot Stilleto Boy ahead of Defunded and White Abarrio around the first turn and to the opening quarter-mile in :23.61. Art Collector inched up to third to the half in :47.71 and 6 furlongs in 1:11.82, just behind Stilleto Boy and Defunded.
Alvarado sent Art Collector after the leaders around the turn while three wide and got the response he wanted. Art Collector came around Defunded and Stilleto Boy and took over approaching the quarter pole. He drew away from there, responding to a few right-handed cracks of the whip and a busy ride from Alvarado in the lane.
“The horse put me in a great spot all the way around,” Alvarado said. “When I asked it to run, he was there for me. Gave me a hell of a run from the quarter pole to the wire.”
The Pegasus victory – firsts for owner, trainer and jockey – also kept Alvarado on an incredible run dating back to last year when he rode Cody’s Wish, Olympiad and Speaker’s Corner to Grade 1 victories for Mott and to last Saturday when he rode his 2,000th winner at Gulfstream.
“I don’t have the words to put it together,” said Alvarado, one of Mott’s main go-to riders and aboard Art Collector for the first time. “It’s just unbelievable. I’m so glad that I got a chance to ride this horse. He’s a very neat horse that I’ve been following for quite a while. I guess it was the perfect time and we got it done today.”
“I don’t know how it gets any better than this,” Alvarado said. “It’s unbelievable having this win with Mott. It’s unbelievable. I’m very grateful for the big support he’s given me over the years. I’m just very happy right now.”
Mott hadn’t won the Pegasus in its current form, but had won three editions of the former Donn Handicap including back-to-back runnings with Hall of Famer and two-time Horse of the Year Cigar in 1995 and 1996. Mott also won the Donn in 2014 with Lea.
The Pegasus topped a stellar card which also featured the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf and Grade 3 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf, along with a strong undercard filled with graded stakes. Mike Maker, who saddled the first three finishers in the Grade 3 William L. McKnight, also won the Pegasus Turf with Three Diamonds Farm’s Atone. Trainer Michael McCarthy, who won the 2019 Pegasus with City Of Light, sent out the winner of the Filly and Mare Turf in Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ and Gary Barber’s Queen Goddess.