Kentucky Derby contender profile: Modernist

February 17th, 2020

A year ago Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott secured his first Kentucky Derby (G1) victory, when Country House was awarded the win via the controversial disqualification of Maximum Security.

Now Mott is back on the Road to the Kentucky Derby with Modernist, who posted an upset victory in the second division of the Risen Star (G2) on Feb. 15 at Fair Grounds. The success secured Modernist 50 Kentucky Derby qualification points, which virtually guarantees the dark bay colt a spot in the Derby starting gate.

Judging from the way Modernist is progressing, an outright Derby victory for Mott might be just around the corner.

A homebred racing for Pam and Martin Wygod, Modernist has always had the pedigree to contend in the spring classics. A son of Uncle Mo, who sired 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Modernist is the first foal produced by Symbolic Gesture, an unraced daughter of 2006 Preakness (G1) winner Bernardini. Symbolic Gesture is a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner Sweet Catomine and Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (G1) champion Life Is Sweet.

With this stamina-oriented pedigree, it wasn’t surprising to see Modernist finish fifth in his debut sprinting 6 furlongs at Belmont in September. He showed improvement when he stretched out to a mile at Aqueduct on Dec. 7, when he rallied late to finish third, and he took an even bigger step forward when he tackled 1 1/8 miles Jan. 25, when he all the way to score by four lengths.

Sticking to 1 1/8 miles for the Risen Star paid great dividends. Modernist broke from the rail, vied for the early lead through steady fractions, and kicked on strongly in the homestretch to win by a length at odds of 12-1.

Some will point out Modernist didn’t run particularly fast in the Risen Star. His final time of 1:51.28 was 0.85 slower than the first division of the race and translated to a modest 92 Brisnet Speed rating. Others will argue Modernist benefited from racing along the rail on a day when inside runners seemed to have an advantage.

But focus too much on the nitty-gritty details, and you’ll miss the bigger picture. Modernist deserves credit for handling a big jump in class with aplomb, and he’s already gone one better than Country House, who finished second in the 2019 Risen Star. With his 2-for-2 record at 1 1/8 miles, Modernist clearly thrives running long and could be a force to reckon with in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby.