A race after Mr. Monomoy won Risen Star Division 1 completed the newly increased 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:50.42, Modernist was able to run roughly a second slower and eke out a victory in Division 2, going from maiden winner to a likely Derby contender.
The 12-shot Modernist, a Bill Mott-trained son of Uncle Mo, had run three times before shipping to Fair Grounds, breaking his maiden on Jan. 25 at Aqueduct once stepped up from a mile to nine furlongs.
"Interestingly, I pulled out Country House's past performances and this horse," Mott said, comparing Modernist to his 2019 Derby winner via disqualification. "When they ran the first time, when they ran the second time, when the Risen Star was -- I got to looking at it and I said, 'Boy, I could see a repeat here.'"
The Pam and Martin Wygod homebred ran back at that distance in style Saturday, rushed up by jockey Junior Alvarado along the rail to duel inside of NY Traffic. With NY Traffic poking a head in front most of the way, they opened in 24.38, 48.57 and 12:12.62 before Modernist’s steady drive through the stretch.
His final time was 1:51.28.
"I asked Junior just to take advantage of the one hole -- use a little bit of his speed," Mott said. "I didn't suspect we were going to be as close as we were, but that's the way it turned out, and the horse handled it very well."
"I’ve always been high on him," Alvarado added. "I think he’s still learning how to be a racehorse but he has so much talent and I’m really proud of him.”
Major Fed got up for second with NY Traffic third and Mailmain Money fourth in the field of 11, which saw one race day scratch. The top four finishers received Derby qualifying points on a 50-20-10-5 basis.
The leaders benefitted from an essential no-show by even-money favorite Anneau d’Or, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) runner-up. Trainer Blaine Wright added blinkers and named Joel Rosario to ride, but the colt was forced wide into the first turn and never much got involved in the race.
While Anneau d'Or figures to make his final prep back home on the west coast, Mott said returning to Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby (G2) is the plan for Modernist.
A year ago, Country House was second in the Risen Star, fourth in the Louisiana Derby and also took a turn at the Arkansas Derby (G1), needing more points than Modernist will after Saturday.
"This horse is a little bit more mature maybe this time than what Country House was," Mott said of Modernist. "Hopefully this moves him forward, and hopefully we're healthy and can come back for the Louisiana Derby."