Modernist Springs Upset in Second Division of Risen Star

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Modernist pressed the pace and pulled away late to win the second division of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford Feb. 15 at Fair Grounds. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Trainer Bill Mott is following a tried and true path to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, and it’s working better than ever.

Only a year ago, Country House broke his maiden in his third start for Mott and then finished second in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds.

Three races later, Country House gave Mott his first Kentucky Derby victory through the disqualification of Maximum Security.

With that history in mind, Mott returned to Fair Grounds Feb. 15 for the Risen Star and entered a horse in each division of the 1 1/8-mile stakes.

Moon Over Miami didn’t follow the script as he finished eighth in the first division, but Modernist followed it flawlessly and managed to top Mott’s 2019 classic winner.

Showing speed from the rail under Junior Alvarado, Marty and Pam Wygod’s homebred son of Uncle Mo battled for the early lead and prevailed by a length in the $400,000 stakes for 3-year-olds that saw TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Anneau d’Or finish ninth as the even-money favorite in his 3-year-old debut.

“I pulled out Country House’s past performances and this horse’s and looked at when they ran before the Risen Star, and I could see a repeat,” said Mott, whose 2019 Kentucky Derby winner was retired Feb. 14 after suffering laminitis.

While it remains to be seen whether Modernist will match Country House’s score in the run for the roses, he all but wrapped up a ticket to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. As part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the Risen Star provided Modernist with 50 points toward a starting spot in the May 2 opening leg of the Triple Crown, a figure good enough to crack the field of 20 in each of the previous editions under the current format.

Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard

“We’ll take it,” Mott said.

Next for Modernist figures to be the Grade 2 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, a March 21 test at 1 3/16 miles.

“It’s nice to go 1 1/8 miles this early,” Mott said. “The timing to the Louisiana Derby is good, and he’s handled the racetrack well.”

While Country House exited a Jan. 17 Gulfstream Park maiden win, Modernist used New York as a launching pad. Fifth in his Sept. 28 debut at Belmont Park, he was an improved third Dec. 7 at Aqueduct. In his third try, after honing his speed in sprints, he tried a 1 1/8-mile, two-turn distance for the first time, and everything fell into place. Modernist showed sharp early speed for the first time and motored to an impressive gate-to-wire, four-length score Jan. 25 at Aqueduct.

The first division of the Risen Star went to Mr. Monomoy, who led at each call, and Alvarado followed a similar path with Modernist after breaking quickly from the rail.

“The idea was to take advantage of being on the rail,” Alvarado said. “The track was pretty fast, and the rail was pretty good. He came out running and put me in a good spot all the way around.”

From the outside post in a field of 11, Ny Traffic joined Modernist on the front end in the run to the first turn and held a narrow lead over Mott’s runner through quarter-mile fractions of :24.38 and :48.57. Leaving the quarter pole, Modernist edged away from Ny Traffic and grabbed a clear lead of 1 1/2 lengths near the eighth pole.

“When I asked him, he was there,” Alvarado said.

From the rear, the only rival gaining significant ground was Major Fed, who rallied to move past Ny Traffic and Mailman Money in the final furlong but was unable to collar Modernist.

Sent off at 12.80-1 odds, Modernist, who paid $27.60 to win, finished in 1:51.28, slower than the 1:50.43 Mr. Monomoy required a race earlier.

Lloyd Madison Farms IV’s Major Fed, a Ghostzapper  colt coming off a 4 1/4-length maiden win in his second start for trainer Gregory Foley, collected 20 qualifying points for taking second by a neck over Ny Traffic. A son of Cross Traffic trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., Ny Traffic earned 10 points. Allied Racing Stable’s Mailman Money was another 1 1/4 lengths back in fourth and picked up five points.

Peter Redekop’s Anneau d’Or was fourth after the opening quarter-mile but never mounted a rally. He finished 12 3/4 lengths behind the winner.

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