J. Paul Reddam’s Pavel, fourth in the Dubai World Cup earlier this year, provided a 6-1 upset in Saturday night’s Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. In just his third career win, the 4-year-old son of Creative Cause proved trainer Doug O’Neill’s faith in him with a three-length victory over Honorable Cause. Ridden by regular jockey Mario Gutierrez, the 6-1 chance Pavel covered nine furlongs over the fast main track in 1:49.21, earning an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup Classic this fall.

“He got the perfect setup tonight,” said Gutierrez. “He’s been training really well into this race so I was confident he’d run well. When we turn for home I could feel like I had a lot of horse underneath me still. It was a great feeling and he won very easily under his own. I knew this horse could be better than his last couple of races and he had some bad luck. He overcame that tonight.”

Backyard Heaven, favored at 4-5, finished in sixth, while Irish War Cry was eased around the far turn and vanned off the course. The Blood-Horse reported that Irish War Cry’s jockey Jose Ortiz believes the colt was affected by the heat; he had struggled with the thumps (an electrolyte imbalance) in recent efforts. Trainer Graham Motion later Tweeted that the horse “was not able to cope” with the heat and “seems fine” after the race.

Both Uncle Mojo and Irish War Cry were quick out of the starting gate, but it was Uncle Mojo who grabbed the lead heading into the clubhouse turn to clock a first quarter in 23.58 seconds. Pavel was well-placed alongside Backyard Heaven in a joint third, just two paths off the rail and directly behind the leaders down the backstretch.

Approaching the far turn, Backyard Heaven moved into contention just as Irish War Cry began to drop back. Ortiz felt something off with Irish War Cry and eased the colt back out of the race after the half-mile pole, pulling him up well before the wire.

Meanwhile, Pavel was charging up alongside Uncle Mojo and Backyard Heaven, making a three-wide bid for the lead. At the top of the stretch, Pavel took over with a commanding lead and was not threatened all the way to the finish, cruising home a three-length winner for two-time Derby winning connections Reddam, O’Neill and Gutierrez.

Honorable Duty held second late over the hard-charging Matrooh, while Hawaakom checked in fourth.

“I really have to thank the owners with this horse and my brother, Dennis, who helped us pick out this horse,” said O’Neill. “In his last couple of races, he got really worked up in the paddock and didn’t run to his best effort. We know he likes to travel and I have to thank our groom and exercise rider for coming out here early with him and getting acclimated to the track. I’m not sure what we’ll do next with him. I see myself nudging up to some adult beverage tonight then thinking about where we go next. We were very optimistic with him all along and to see him put it together was great. We went through a bit of a funky phase with him and had some traffic troubles in his last couple of races.”

Bred in Kentucky by Brereton Jones and WinStar Farm, Pavel has always been one of O’Neill’s most highly-regarded colts. He broke his maiden in his first start in July of his sophomore year, and O’Neill thought so much of him that he immediately sent him out to the G2 Jim Dandy on the other side of the country. Pavel finished fourth that day, then rebounded to win the G3 Smarty Jones in his very next outing.

At Belmont, Pavel’s next race was the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, in which he finished third behind Diversify and Keen Ice. A 10th-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic led O’Neill to cut him back to sprinting, but Pavel responded by running fourth in the G1 Malibu. He also finished fourth in his next three starts, including the Dubai World Cup and Gold Cup at Santa Anita, before finally breaking through in the Stephen Foster. Overall, Pavel has won three of his 10 starts for earnings of over $1.1 million.


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