I thought Doug O'Neill was Crazy

September 05, 2017 04:20am
I thought Doug O'Neill was Crazy
Photo: Bill Denver/EquiPhoto

To say that running against two classic winners, going nine furlongs, after having only a maiden sprint four weeks before, is a lot to ask, would be a big understatement. This year's Jim Dandy was not like running in a graded juvenile stakes around one-turn, after all. It truly was jumping right into the deep end of the pool, before knowing for sure that you can swim. Frankly, I thought Doug O'Neill was crazy for running Pavel in that spot. After the race, I had softened on that opinion, but just a little.

Let's start at the beginning. Plenty of issues kept the $80,000 yearling purchase away from the races until the first day of the second half of his three year-old season. Pavel (Creative Cause--Mons Venus, by Maria's Mon) looked good that day, dueling on a fast pace through fast fractions, from the inside. The 7-1 first-timer pulled away down the stretch to win by 4 1/2-lengths.

The very fast time of 1:15.43 for 6 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita confirmed that it was a big debut performance by the half-brother of Caracortado. Big, but how could he be ready for the Kentucky Derby winner and the Preakness winner going two-turns at Saratoga, before the month was over? 

It turns out Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing were not the ones that Pavel had to worry about in the $600,000 affair. While Good Samaritan ran right by them late, the second-time starter accounted for himself very well. He made a nice middle move on the outside to be a menacing presence at the top of the lane, before weakening just a tad late. Still, he finished in a four way photo for second, with much more experienced stakes horses.

Clearly, Pavel ran a good race in the Jim Dandy, but still I wondered about the decision. Would such a tough race, off of only a sprint debut, move him forward, or would it knock him out?

Apparently, the two-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer knew exactly what he was doing with this big talent. Pavel came back five weeks after the Jim Dandy and two months after his first career race in yesterday's Grade 3 Smarty Jones at Parx Racing. Against a solid field that included; Battalion Runner, Colonelsdarktemper, Hence, and Talk Logistics, the Reddam Racing runner made it look easy. 

Stalking the West Virginia Derby winner Colonelsdarktemper early, Pavel was asked by jockey Mario Gutierrez on the far turn of the 8 1/2 furlong affair. The inexperienced colt easily moved up and took over from Colonelsdarktemper nearing the quarter pole. He then drew off impressively, while getting only mild encouragement from Gutierrez, to win by six easy lengths.

Wow. Two months into his racing career, and this one has already proven quite a bit. Only the sky would seem to be the limit. Once again, O'Neill has some decisions to make with the talented Pavel.

The same connections also have Irap. The Blue Grass, Ohio Derby, and Indiana Derby winner ran a good third in the Travers in his last race. Both sophomore colts look primed for an interesting fall campaign. The Breeders' Cup Classic would seem to be on the table for both of them, but what comes next?

I would expect O'Neill to keep them separated, so the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby, also at Parx, on September 23, should be the option for one, while the Grade 1 Awesome Again, back at Santa Anita on September 30, would likely be the place for the other.

Either way this is all very heady stuff for a colt who made his career debut in a 6 1/2 furlong sprint on July 1. Doug O'Neill has demonstrated nothing but confidence in Pavel so far, and his charge has responded in a big way. Turns out O'Neill is not so crazy after all.


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Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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