Drury assistant Jose Garcia on ride of life with Art Collector

Assistant trainers are one of the most labor-intensive positions in horse racing. But Jose Garcia, who has worked for trainer Tommy Drury for 22 years, has assumed an additional role as groom for Keeneland’s Toyota Blue Grass winner Art Collector, now one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby.

“He’s an amazing horse,” said Garcia, who on Friday said his throat was still sore from cheering through the Keeneland stretch. “I don’t have the words to express how good it is. I thank God and Mr. Bruce (Lunsford) for having the horse with us. I can’t express how happy I am. It’s a dream come true. I’ve been here (in America) 25 years. This is the first time we’ve actually had a horse for the Derby. It feels great.”

Drury said that Art Collector has “a whole entourage of grooms” but that “Jose spends biggest majority of time with him.”

Garcia said he spends at least 45 minutes a day with Art Collector in addition his many duties as an assistant.

“I told the guy that I’d take over,” he said at Ellis Park. “Brushes, bandages, everything. The horse is so special to me…. I pretty much do everything with him. I’ve got my help (but) I took over the groom. For me, he’s an unbelievable horse to be around. Tommy said, ‘This horse is a runner.’ The first time I saw him, I said, ‘You know what? You’re right.’ I’ve seen a lot of good horses for Al Stall, Mr. Frankie Brothers, when we were getting them ready. You get that feeling. Now this is the whole package for Tommy. I’m very happy to be around the horse and enjoy, just go one day at a time. (But) we won the Blue Grass and nobody can take that from us.”

Assistant trainers are the glue for a stable of any size because they ensure horses are readied and go to the track for training in an orderly fashion and that the grooms and hot walkers are doing their jobs properly. If someone calls in sick, the assistant might be the one jumping into the stall or picking up the shank to walk a horse.

“Jose is the backbone of the operation,” Drury said. “He’s been my assistant going on 22 years. He practically lives with Art Collector. He grooms him, he walks him. He doesn’t like to let other people get around him, to be honest with you. It’s great because it allows me to continue to do my job and know that Art Collector is in good hands. I’ve got 59 other horses here to worry about, and to make sure every horse gets treated the same. Jose allows me to do that. I couldn’t do it without him.”

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Jennie Rees