OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Pam and Martin Wygod’s Modernist pressed the pace and pounced to a 2 1/2-length victory in Saturday’s Grade 3, $150,000 Excelsior, a nine-furlong test for older horses at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott and piloted by Junior Alvarado, the 4-year-old Uncle Mo colt prevailed as the youngest horse in a field of six veteran routers.
The complexion of the race changed when Chester and Mary Broman’s New York homebred Mr. Buff, installed as the 4-5 morning line favorite, was scratched on Saturday morning after receiving treatment for colic symptoms.
“He had a little colic,” trainer John Kimmel said. “He’s fine now and acting like nothing ever happened. It’s nothing serious but it was unfortunate timing.”
Kimmel said the 7-year-old Mr. Buff, a 17-time winner with more than $1.3 million in purse earnings, will target the Grade 3 Westchester on May 1 at Belmont Park.
Backsideofthemoon, a 9-year-old gelding piloted by Trevor McCarthy, took command into the first turn in the Excelsior as Modernist, Limonite and Tintoretto jostled for position behind the veteran pacesetter through an opening quarter-mile in 25.54 seconds.
Modernist pressed the pace from second down the backstretch as multiple graded stakes-placed Backsideofthemoon, a veteran of 50 career starts, clung stubbornly to a diminishing lead.
The modest pace battle continued into the final turn as the tightly-packed group began to come alive with Grumps Little Tots launching an outside bid and Haikal, the 2019 Grade 3 Gotham winner, following his run.
Modernist was asked for his best late in the turn and took the lead as a rail-riding Limonite waited for racing room with Haikal looming large on the outside. Inside the final eighth, Modernist surged clear and powered through the wire in a final time of 1:54.38 on the fast main track. Haikal completed the exacta by 3 3/4-lengths over Limonite. Rounding out the order of finish were Backsideofthemoon, Grumps Little Tots and Tintoretto.
The victory marked the second graded stakes win in as many days at Aqueduct for Alvarado and Mott, who combined to win Friday Grade 3 Distaff with Paris Lights.
Alvarado said the scratch of Mr. Buff meant he would utilize a more prominent approach with Modernist.
“I knew whatever would happen at the gate, I had to be a little more aggressive and forwardly placed,” said Alvarado. “ Even though we had a slow break, I had to use him a little to put myself in that position, and I think that helped.”
Alvarado said he was confident throughout aboard Modernist, who entered the Excelsior from a second in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Challenger on March 6 at Tampa Bay Downs.
“He helped me get my position in the first turn and after that I was just a passenger,” said Alvarado. “I was just waiting to turn for home to ask him and he kicked on very nicely.
“At the quarter-pole, when I asked him to run, he picked it up so quickly that he didn’t even have a chance to switch leads,” added Alvarado. “Then, I felt him running faster and I didn’t want to badger him to switch leads until we passed the eighth pole. I pulled a little on my inside reins and then he switched leads and kept on. Nothing to be worried about.”
Modernist, a third-out maiden winner last January at the Big A, enjoyed a profitable sophomore season winning the Grade 2 Risen Star and finishing third in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds ahead of an off-the-board effort in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes.
It was the second Excelsior victory for Mott, who captured the 1991 renewal with Chief Honcho. Mott’s New York-based assistant Leana Willaford said she was pleased with the confident ride.
“We told Junior, ‘Don’t take anything away coming easy,’” said Willaford. “I was really happy with him. He’s matured both physically and mentally. I think he’s going to have a good year.”
Bred in Kentucky by the Wygod Family, Modernist banked $82,500 in victory while improving his record to 9-3-1-2. He returned $5.30 for a $2 win ticket.
Live racing resumes Thursday at the Big A with an eight-race card. First post is 1:20 p.m. Eastern.
Aqueduct Press Release