In the paddock, race trackers can be seen craning their neck, looking at how a horse is walking, how agitated they might be and noticing any kind of stress.
It usually comes in the form of lathering, which occurs when a horse sweats. It’s viewed as something you don’t want from your horse. But not always.
Pavel was running his third race, the Grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx, near Philadelphia, last September.
“Parx has a semi-indoor paddock,” said Paul Reddam, who along with his wife Zillah owns Pavel. “As the horses are being saddled, Pavel washes out completely. [Trainer] Doug [O’Neill] calls me on the phone as I was at home in California. He says, ‘If you were going to bet on him, don’t. I’ve never seen anything like it.’”
Reddam took O’Neill’s advice. But, Pavel won by six lengths.
Pavel is the 7-2 second choice in Saturday’s $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar and his connections are hoping he goes on the track as an excitable boy. Accelerate is the 8-5 favorite for trainer John Sadler. The 5-year-old is undefeated in California this year with two Grade 1 wins: the Santa Anita Handicap and Gold Cup at Santa Anita.
Pavel, named after former Detroit Red Wing Pavel Datsyuk, was a very modestly priced horse, costing Reddam $150,000. The path that has led him to Saturday’s Pacific Classic is anything but normal. He didn’t debut until July of last year, missing all the Triple Crown races.
“Every little thing that can go on with a horse developing, he seemed to have,” O’Neill said, pointing out that none of the problems was serious. “He had been in and out of training for over a year before we debuted him.”
Pavel won his first race and then took a monster step up in class and was sent to the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga, where he finished fourth running against last year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners.
“We really wanted to run him in the West Virginia Derby,” Reddam said. “But we saw the Jim Dandy was coming up with a short field. We were aggressive. Maybe over-aggressive. But I don’t think horses can read a program. It didn’t hurt him in his next race.”
That was the win in the Smarty Jones. Pavel ran a good third in the Jockey Gold Cup at Belmont Park and then, as a 3-year-old running only his fifth race, he was entered into the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He finished 10th.
O’Neill said Pavel was given “a few weeks of a whole lot of nothing” so they could then start to build him up again. He then ran a “credible” fourth in the one-turn Malibu Stakes and a fourth against older horses in the San Pasqual, both at Santa Anita.
Normally, you would continue to ease a horse back, but Pavel ended up on a long trip for the Dubai World Cup.
“Even though it’s one of the world’s richest races, it doesn’t attract the top European horses because it’s run on the dirt,” Reddam said. “His previous race he got into a lot of trouble at Santa Anita. But we had an invite to Dubai to run for $10 million so we took a shot.”
O’Neill said they were very happy with the fourth-place finish.
Now this is where the owner and trainer disagree. Reddam thought the Classic was Pavel’s worst race. O’Neill thinks it was the Gold Cup at Santa Anita.
“The Santa Anita Gold Cup was disappointing,” O”Neill said. “That was the one race where we were all scratching our heads. He was training good going into it but he just ran flat.
“At that point, I kicked my self a little when I realized he was the kind of horse that likes to lather up. He just gets real excitable. We had started putting cotton in his ears. We started schooling him in the gate and schooling him in the paddock trying to take that [excitability] away from him. Generally, the calmer a horse is, the better performance. But we took that away from him, so we decided to let him run raw.”
And that’s when he ran his best race, winning the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs by 3 3/4 lengths.
It was a very hot day in Louisville and Pavel wasn’t the only creature, human or horse, who was sweating out the day.
“He got hot in the paddock and he ran the race we always dreamt he would run,” O’Neill said.
“That was the horse we thought we had,” he said. “That was the horse we had seen in the morning.”
So, with all that good stuff going on, and hoping to see a lathered-up Pavel, Reddam should be optimistic.
“My one concern about the Pacific Classic is his one race at Del Mar (Breeders’ Cup Classic) was the worst race of his life,” Reddam said. “Some horses don’t like the surface. Remember Arrogate?”
Reddam is hoping people will say ‘Remember Pavel?’ but in a whole different way.
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