LOUISVILLE, KY – Reddam Racing’s much-hyped Pavel finally broke through for a big score on Saturday, clearing away strongly in the stretch to take the Grade 1, $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. The Stephen Foster was race 8 on the Downs After Dark Presented by Budweiser program.
The Stephen Foster is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event, with Pavel receiving an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Saturday, November 3.
Breaking from the far outside post 9 under Mario Gutierrez, Pavel was able to be forwardly-placed the first time past the crowd and settled in fourth while running outside of the 4-5 favorite Backyard Heaven. Just in front of them, Uncle Mojo set the pace a 1/2-length in front of Irish War Cry through opening splits of :23.58, :47.25, and 1:11.59. Irish War Cry began dropping off sharply after completing 5 furlongs, opening up a chance for Backyard Heaven to take a shot along the outside of Uncle Mojo. Midway through the far turn, Backyard Heaven put his nose in front, but Pavel suddenly surged and stole the lead with a strong sweeping move. Charging onto the top of the stretch full of run and with momentum on his side, Pavel drew off convincingly to win by 3 3/4 lengths in a final time of 1:49.21 for the 1 1/8-mile main track event.
“He got the perfect setup tonight,” Gutierrez said. “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.”
A three-way photo finish for second went to Honorable Duty by a neck over Matrooh, with Hawaakom as the unlucky one another head back, sandwiched between them in fourth. Uncle Mojo and Backyard Heaven faded to cross in fifth and sixth, respectively, with Patch and Lookin At Lee completing the order of finish.
Irish War Cry was vanned off after jockey Jose Ortiz pulled him up entering the far turn, but trainer Graham Motion later tweeted that the recent Grade 3 Pimlico Special Stakes winner was not handling the heat, which was reportedly 87 degrees with high humidity at post time.
“I second guessed my decision (to run),” said Motion. “I thought it would cool off. When we shipped out here it was really hot and tonight it just didn’t cool off at all.”
Pavel’s win was his second career graded stakes score, following the Grade 3 Smarty Jones at Parx last September, and was only the third of his career, which began with a late-blooming debut victory at Santa Anita last July. Trainer Doug O’Neill had spotted him aggressively ever since the Smarty Jones, but the best that he could finish in five Grade 1s and a Grade 2 was third. The 4-year-old son of Creative Cause, campaigned by the same connections that won the 2016 Kentucky Derby with Nyquist, became racing’s newest millionaire with a bankroll of $1,175,000 to complement a record of 10-3-0-1.
“I really have to thank the owners with this horse and my brother, Dennis, who helped us pick out this horse,” O’Neill said. “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.”
Pavel returned $15.60 to win, $7.80 to place, and $7.20 to show. Honorable Duty brought back $8 to place and $7.20 to show, while Matrooh paid $26 to show.