Twenty-four hours after the announcement that 2019 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Country House had been officially retired, his trainer, Bill Mott, earned a virtual return trip to the big dance when Modernist prevailed in the second division of the $400,000 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds on Saturday night.
The Risen Star was split into divisions for the first time in 25 years and lengthened to 1 1/8 miles this season. That worked to the benefit of Modernist, who was exiting a wire-to-wire maiden win over the same distance at Aqueduct on Jan. 25.
“I think it was a good move on this racetrack’s part to make this a mile and an eighth,” said Mott, who conditions Modernist for owner-breeders Marty and Pam Wygod. “A lot of the preps are a mile and a sixteenth and it gives people a chance to go nine furlongs this early in the season. It’s not always easy to find that particular race.”
Under Junior Alvarado, Modernist broke alertly from post 1, raced in close attendance to pacesetter Ny Traffic till the stretch, then edged clear of that rival while fending off late challengers. Modernist won by one length and completed the distance over a fast track in 1:51.28. By comparison, Mr. Monomoy was a front-running winner of the first Risen Star division in a time of 1:50.43.
“We just tried to take advantage of being at the rail. The rail’s been pretty good today,” Alvarado said. “He put me in a good spot all the way around. When I started asking him, he was there for me.”
Major Fed, also racing for the first time against winners, rallied well for second by a neck over Ny Traffic, with Mailman Money 1 1/4 lengths behind in fourth. Those four all earned their first Derby qualifying points of 50-20-10-5, respectively.
The order of finish was rounded out by Mr. Big News, Lynn’s Map, Finnick the Fierce, Excession, even-money favorite Anneau d’Or, Liam’s Lucky Charm, and Fame to Famous.
Prior to the maiden victory, Modernist had run fifth at Belmont Park first out going 6 furlongs, and then improved when finishing third over a one-turn mile at Aqueduct.
“He’s progressed very well,” said Mott, who suggested Modernist might return for the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) over 1 3/16 miles on March 21. “Instead of acting like a coltish 2-year-old, he’s started acting like a more mature horse and more professional about everything.”
Bred in Kentucky, Modernist is by Uncle Mo and out of Symbolic Gesture, by Bernardini. His second dam was Broodmare of the Year Sweet Life, who also reared 2004 juvenile filly champion Sweet Catomine and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) winner Life is Sweet.