Harmony and Dissonance: The Fate of Two Horses

While rising thoroughbred Modernist shines on the road to the Kentucky Derby, the horse racing world has been saddened by the sudden loss of promising filly Taraz.

Updated: Feb. 20, 2020 • 12:46 PM EST

The Kentucky Derby trail can be a long and winding path.

This past week, the racing world learned of the retirement of Country House, a horse as controversial as they come.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with that name, he was the horse ridden by Flavien Prat that "won" the Kentucky Derby. I say "won" because the outcome hovered well above suspicion. After all, he finished second to Maximum Security, but that Jason Servis-trained charge was disqualified due to an infraction that occurred at the top of the stretch.

Country House won the Kentucky Derby. Period. I think many of us want to move on from that moment, and we truly wish the victor a lovely retirement, laminitis free.

As Country House’s trainer, Hall of Farmer Bill Mott, he has much to look forward to along the trail in 2020, even though he won his first Derby last year. If someone hands you that trophy, you do not turn something like that down. I think Mott acted with grace and presence during and after the circus that ensued.

Now, he’s back on the Derby Trail again, and I’m happy to see it because he has in his stable a powerhouse that looks amazing — Modernist. Shipped into the Fair Grounds in New Orleans this past weekend, Junior Alvarado rode Modernist at 12-1. He jetted away from the field down the stretch in the second half of the Risen Star, a race that automatically puts your thoroughbred into the Derby mix.

Modernist is the real deal.

Bred and owned by Martin Wygod and his wife Pamela, Modernist is the offspring of Uncle Mo, a stallion whose progeny are setting the horse racing world on fire both on the dirt and turf. It was a banner weekend for the connections, and Mott has confirmed that Modernist will prep for the trip to Louisville in May with a second Bayou State performance in the Louisiana Derby next month.

On the opposite end of the racing spectrum, Monday brought sadness and heartache when the promising stakes-winning filly Taraz severely fractured her left front pastern while working out at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.

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The 3-year-old daughter of Into Mischief was brought back to the barn for examination. Mild-mannered trainer Brad Cox consulted with veterinarians, but her owners, Juddmonte Management, decided to euthanize her.

Taraz won all three of her races by a combined 21 lengths, which is incredible. Her career was fleeting, and the connections were devastated by the choice in front of them.

This past weekend exhibited the proverbial high of an emotional win and the lows associated with a sudden fatality. If there is some method of making sense of this emotional travail, it might be that sport continues to be a reflection of life — at times harmony and other times, dissonance.

None of it is solely about winning. We would do well to remember that every time we support the athletes we admire and love.

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