Bruce Lunsford’s Bernardini homebred Art Collector registered the richest win of his 21-race career on Saturday, coming from just off the pace to score an emphatic 4 1/2-length triumph over Defunded in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational presented by Baccarat at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott and ridden for the first time by Junior Alvarado, Art Collector ran the nine furlongs on a fast main track in 1:49.44 and paid $33 to win.
The mount on Art Collector became open for the Grade 1 race, Mott said, when the horse’s regular rider, Luis Saez, opted to ride another horse who was a longshot, Get Her Number, for Peter Miller.
Defunded, the 5-2 second betting choice behind favored Cyberknife, finished second, with front-running 45-1 outsider Stilleto Boy third for the second year in a row. Last Samurai was fourth and Proxy fifth in the field of 12 older runners. They were followed by Cyberknife, the two-time G1 winner making his final start before entering stud at Spendthrift Farm, Skippylongstocking, White Abarrio, Get Her Number, Simplification, O’Connor, and Ridin With Biden.
Mike Smith gunned Stilleto Boy to the lead from the No. 11 post position in the short run to the first turn and set fractions of :23.61, :47.71 and 1:11.82 for the first six furlongs. Defunded, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., was the front-runner’s closest pursuer, with White Abarrio just behind him and Art Collector following Defunded while four wide down the backstretch.
As the field rounded the turn, Defunded challenged Stilleto Boy and then Art Collector ranged up to their outside as the three turned their heads toward the finish. Art Collector moved to the front at the top of the stretch, clicking off a mile in 1:36.65, then cruised to the wire without being further challenged.
“We scripted it that way and it turned out that way,” said Mott of Alvarado’s ride. “That doesn’t happen but Junior rode him and did a great job. I told him just ride him like you ride Olympiad (a multiple graded stakes winner for Mott in 2022), and he rode him the same way.”
“I don’t have the words to put it together. It’s just unbelievable,” said Alvarado, who recently registered his 2,000th career victory. The Pegasus was his 18th Grade 1 triumph in North America. “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 continued. “It’s unbelievable having this win with Mott. … I’m very grateful for the big support he’s given me over the years. I’m just very happy right now.”
It was announced last year that Art Collector, who is now 6 years old, would stand at Claiborne Farm at the conclusion of his career, but Lunsford and Mott indicated the multiple graded stakes winner would likely continue to race in 2023.
“Bill and I have had a long-term relationship, back with Vision and Verse (graded stakes winner who was second in the 1999 G1 Belmont Stakes),” said Lunsford. “We talked about it, and I give Bill credit for this, he said we’re going to try something different. Let’s lay him off. And he just kept getting better and better.”
Art Collector was produced from Distorted Legacy, by Distorted Humor.
Art Collector had not raced since finishing fifth behind Hot Rod Charlie in the G2 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs Oct. 1. Mott had considered a prep for the Pegasus but felt he wasn’t quite ready. He was ready when it mattered most.
The Pegasus World Cup was Art Collector’s second Grade 1 victory, following the 2021 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park. He won the G2 Blue Grass Stakes at 3 in 2020, along with back to back victories in the G2 Charles Town Classic in 2021 and ’22.
Art Collector’s record now stands at 11 wins and one second from 21 starts.
Ed Moger Jr. (Stilleto Boy, 3rd): “It was our plan just to come out running from the  post. He usually breaks really, really well so we wanted to be right where we were.”
Sebastian ‘Bas’ Nicholl, assistant to D. Wayne Lukas (Last Samurai, 4th): “It was a great trip. A great ride. A great effort from the horse and the jockey.”
Brad Cox (Cyberknife, 6th): “He didn’t look like he fired to me. He had a little bit of a wide trip and at the three-eighths pole I could kind of tell he wasn’t traveling. He broke well but they got away from him. It reminded me a little bit of the race at Parx when he ran third there. It wasn’t to be. It didn’t work out.”
Saffie Joseph Jr. (Skippylongstocking, 7th; White Abarrio, 8th; O’Connor, 11th): “I don’t think any of them ran to the way we expected. But that’s racing. You regroup, and they came back safe and sound. But none of them fired. That’s racing, sometimes.”
“White Abarrio, he got a good trip. He was on the inside, so he was taking a lot of dirt. But as far as he was drawn, it was a good enough trip that you really can’t complain about it. I thought White Abarrio was in good shape to run well.”
“Skippy was in a good spot, too, but he just flattened out.”
“O’Connor, he didn’t show anything. He was probably the only one that didn’t show anything.”
Irad Ortiz Jr. (Defunded, 2nd): “I had a beautiful trip. We wanted to have a clear break and we had it. He broke a step slow the last couple times so that was my goal to make him break. He put me in a perfect spot. I sat second and I just got beat. Second-best today.”
Joel Rosario (Proxy, 5th): “I had a really good trip. He had a lot of kickback and he wasn’t too happy with that. He put his head up in the air a little bit. He came running late but sometimes that can cost you the race. He still ran good after all that.”
Florent Geroux (Cyberknife, 6th): “I was right behind the speed the way I anticipated. I was right behind Skippylongstocking and I could tell already at the half-mile pole when [Cyberknife] was not taking me I knew he was pretty much done. He’s a horse that usually travels great and likes to do it on his own.”