LOUISVILLE (June 16, 2018) – Redham Racing’s 4-year-old Pavel ($15.60) took control of Saturday evening’s $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) in the stretch and pulled away to a 3 ¾-length victory over Honorable Duty and earned an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge is an international series of 82 stakes races whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will be held at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2-3.
Pavel, trained by Doug O’Neill and ridden by Mario Gutierrez – the same owner, trainer and jockey combination that teamed up for Kentucky Derby victories with I’ll Have Another and Nyquist - becomes the second horse to qualify for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic this year. Kazumasa Yamada’s 6-year-old gelding Nonkono Yume (JPN) was the first to qualify, winning the one mile February Stakes (G1) at Tokyo Racecourse
As a part of the benefits of the Challenge series, the Breeders’ Cup will pay the pre-entry and entry fees for Pavel to start in the Classic. Breeders’ Cup is also providing a $10,000 travel allowance for all horses based outside of Kentucky to compete in this year’s Championships.
Pavel, a gray or roan 4-year-old Kentucky-bred son by Creative Cause, won his third race in 10 career starts. He came into the Foster off a fourth-place finish in the 1 1/4 mille Gold Cup at Santa Anita Park on May 26. Prior to that, Pavel finished fourth in the Dubai World Cup at Meydan. His last win came in the Smarty Jones at Parx Racing on September 4 during his 3-year-old season.
“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. 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.”
In the Foster, Uncle Mojo battled Irish War Cry for the early lead as Backyard Heaven and Pavel settled just behind the leaders. Honorable Duty, who hit the rail heading into the first turn, settled behind the top group as the pace-setting Uncle Mojo established early fractions of :24.35 for the opening quarter and a half-mile in :47.25. Pavel moved outside the leaders heading into the turn as Uncle Mojo continued to lead as Backyard Heaven moved up, while Irish War Cry dropped back suddenly on the turn. Gutierrez and Pavel launched a three-wide move for the lead at the head the stretch as the colt quickly surged past that pair in the upper stretch and drew clear. The winner steadily increased his advantage in the run through the stretch as Honorable Duty and Matrooh battled for the runner-up spot and Hawaakom made a late run to finish fourth.
Pavel, bred in Kentucky by Brereton C. Jones and WinStar Farm, completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.21 over a fast track.
“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.”
One race earlier on the Churchill Downs card, Merriebelle Stables’ 2.30-1 favorite Blue Prize (ARG) prevailed by 2 ½ lengths over Farrell to win the $200,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap (G2) and earned an automatic berth into the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). Trained by Ignacio Correas and ridden by Jose Ortiz, Blue Prize, a 5-year-old chestnut mare by Pure Prize, won her fifth race in 14 starts career starts, with her most recent win coming in the Top Flight Invitational at Aqueduct on April 15. She came into tonight’s race off a second place effort in the Dupont Distaff (G3) at Pimlico on May 18. Blue Prize completed the 1 1/8 miles of the Fleur de Lis in 1:50.02 over a fast track.