Bombs Away! Don't Ignore Pavel in Classic

There are forgotten horses; there are overlays; there are longshots; and then there are those horses who are all three and can be classified as potential bombs.

With the depth of this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, you are going to get some huge prices on horses that don’t deserve to be huge prices. But remember, depth does not always equate to strength, and at this point we really don’t know just how strong the Classic field is.

With that said, you are about to read a series of excuses for one of those potential bombs, Pavel. Many bettors don’t want to hear excuses. They want results. They want something concrete. In short, they want something staring them in the face. But when a huge longshot comes in and you can’t figure out why, it is often overlooked excuses that explain why a horse wins when he shouldn’t and why he went off at such high odds.

In the case of Pavel, on paper he shouldn’t be able to knock off this field of talented and consistent horses and he shouldn’t be able to make up the 12 lengths he was beaten by Accelerate in the Pacific Classic. And on top of that he will have to go into the Breeders’ Cup Classic without a prep within the past two months. All that adds up to gigantic odds.

But let’s look at Pavel more closely. Early in his career he was asked to and did things horses are not supposed to do and established himself as an extraordinary talent. He flew cross country and went into the Jim Dandy Stakes against the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness having only one 6 1/2-furlong maiden victory under his belt. Talk about a bold move. Yet there he was battling for the lead with three other horses at the eighth pole before tiring a bit to finish fourth, a head behind Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and almost a length in front of Preakness winner Cloud Computing. Again, this is a horse with only one sprint race under him and having to travel some 3,000 miles.

Following a scintillating six-length romp in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx and a 103 Beyer speed figure, he jumped up to a mile and a quarter against some of the best older horses in the country, and despite having run only three times in his life, he was able to finish third behind the top-class Diversify and Keen Ice, beaten only 1 3/4 lengths after chasing the pace throughout. The final time of the race was an excellent 2:00 4/5, the third fastest Gold Cup in 14 years, earning Pavel a 104 Beyer speed figure in defeat.

He was then sent off at odds of 28-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and never picked his feet up, beaten 34 lengths. I’ll come back to that race later.

To demonstrate just what this horse was asked to do early on in his career, he then dropped back from 1 1/4 miles down to seven furlongs in the Malibu Stakes and was fourth behind the brilliant City of Light in 1:21 1/5. Let’s not hold that race against him, as seven furlongs definitely is not his best distance. He then stretched back out to 1 1/8 miles in the San Pasqual Stakes and had a disastrous trip, stuck in traffic the whole way. Let’s let track announcer Michael Wrona describe his stretch run – “Pavel badly blocked…and (Mario) Gutierrez has to yank Pavel across multiple sets of heels.” He finally was able to swing clear late and just missed catching Mubtaahij for third. So let’s definitely not hold that race against him either.

Next came the Dubai World Cup, and on a notoriously speed favoring track he again finished fourth, but only two lengths behind runner-up West Coast, who also was victimized by the speed conducive track. Pavel still earned a respectable 99 Beyer speed figure.

Normally it takes most horses a long time to recover from a trip to Dubai, but trainer Doug O’Neill not only brought him back in only two months, he brought back him going a mile and a quarter in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita and he pretty much came up empty, finishing fourth yet again. We can attribute that to being asked to do too much too soon.

So it was goodbye California and hello Churchill Downs…which happens to be the site of this year’s Breeders’ Cup. Finally, we got to see what Pavel is capable of when the race and the track is working in his favor, as he drew off to win the grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap by nearly four lengths, winning with his ears pricked and Gutierrez just showing him the whip in the final sixteenth. And he galloped out like he wanted to do a lot more.

Now, let’s get to his last start, the Pacific Classic. Yes, he was second by 12 lengths behind Accelerate. But I am just going to go back to the Breeders’ Cup Classic when he did no running at all over the Del Mar track, as did a number of other top-class horses for no explainable reason. I have made it a habit when handicapping to excuse all defeats at Del Mar, and it now seems obvious that Pavel and Del Mar are far from compatible. And it also should be noted that since the Pacific Classic was inaugurated in 1991, no winner has ever gone on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The last horse to come relatively close was Collected last year when the Breeders’ Cup was run for the first time at Del Mar. So he no doubt is a horse who loves that track. If the mighty Arrogate can lose three straight races at Del Mar, finishing up the track in two of them, I am not going to be that critical of Pavel.

California Chrome romped in the Pacific Classic, but was collared by Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita when he appeared to have the race won. Several top-class Pacific Classic winners have come up empty in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, such as Game On Dude, Lava Man, Borrego, Came Home, and General Challenge. And Pleasantly Perfect wound up a distant third.

So, I am putting a line through Pavel’s two races at Del Mar. With the best performance of his life coming at Churchill Downs and a career that can be called unusually orchestrated, there is at least a reason why Pavel can be considered a potential longshot possibility in the BC Classic. Yes, I offered a lot of excuses and you can dismiss them if you wish, but there is a razor thin line between an excuse and a reason. Let’s just say there were reasons for Pavel’s defeats. From day one, his campaign has been all over the place, traveling all over the country, all over the world, thrown into big races with no foundation, and competing at seven different racetracks at five different distances from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles. In 11 lifetime starts, he has finished on the board in 10 of them.

Even owner Paul Reddam admitted that Pavel has been put through a lot in his career and asked to do a great deal, certainly more than the vast majority of horses.

Following the Stephen Foster, Reddam said, “Doug made some changes after the Jockey Club Gold Cup and changed him back for the Foster, so hopefully he has him figured out.”

Pavel has turned in back-to-back six-furlong works, including a sharp 1:13 1/5 drill in his last work on Oct. 19.

If O’Neill does indeed have him figured out and Pavel finally is starting to have something resembling a normal career, and we see a repeat of the Foster, then he is a horse worth considering as a monster longshot, at least to fill the exotics. But don’t be surprised if Churchill Downs brings out the best in him once again and we wind up with another Volponi, whose career was equally as bizarre.

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