Sometimes we find out too much thinking can be bad. Keep your brain out of the way and “let nature take its course” can provide a formula for success. Or at least that is how it happened for team Pavel as this impressive Thoroughbred got his biggest score to date on June 16.

On a hot and steamy night at Churchill Downs the mercury rose for Pavel as a sizzling run earned him a trip to the winner’s circle and a berth in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. Always a looker, this impressive son of Creative Cause had given his connections reason to believe he was top shelf, but a grade 1 win had somehow eluded him in nine career starts. Backed by believers, trainer Doug O’Neill brought his horse from the west coast and was rewarded with a huge win in the Stephen Foster Handicap.

“Coming here was all (owner) Paul Reddam’s idea,” says O’Neill. “He came out of the Gold Cup at Santa Anita on May 26 in such great shape and we talked about it. Paul had targeted this race and said let’s go for it. We know the horse ships well and likes to travel so we came here looking for something big. Pavel has always shown us grade 1 talent in the mornings with his work and Paul gave us the chance to prove it at night. You come into a race like this with optimism but to see it happen is really a great feeling.”

The race saw Pavel sit just off a good early pace (23.58 opening quarter 47.25 half mile) holding his spot just outside the leaders. Primed to pounce under jockey Mario Guiterrez, the striking Kentucky bred rocketed past the front runners at the top of the stretch and never looked back. Rolling home in the $500,000 Foster, Pavel was much the best as his 3 ¾ length margin of victory stamped him as a real contender for the November Breeders’ Cup Classic which is also run at Churchill Downs.

Interestingly enough, the key to conquering an accomplished field in this mile and an eighth journey may have taken place before Pavel ever toed the track. A slight alteration in the pre-race preparation saw the grandson of Maria’s Mon look a little hot and bothered. Of course, most of the 21,053 on-lookers were much the same as humid conditions had sweat rolling. Being visibly worked up and sweaty is normally not the best thing for most race horses, but this is where O’Neill put his brain on the shelf and let Pavel be Pavel.

“Seeing a horse get all lathered up is usually not a good sign,” says the two-time Kentucky Derby (2012, 2016) winning trainer. “As a horseman you try and calm your horse down when you see him get all worked up like that. You want them to be relaxed, but in the past he has seemed to run better when he does get a little hot. We just decided we were going to lead him over here and let him do what he does and just see what happens. If you bring your hitter to the park let him play the game and swing the way he swings.”

Pavel got his fastball and connected in a big way. Covering the distance in 1:49.21, he made the 37th running of the Stephen Foster a memorable one. As for what’s next, it is uncertain just where he will start next. Having been to seven different tracks in ten lifetime starts the options are wide open.”

“We just want to enjoy this one and reflect over an adult beverage or two,” says the fun-loving O’Neill. “I could never become a lawyer because I couldn’t pass a bar. That’s an old Irish joke, but seriously, Paul (Reddam) and I will sit down and think about how we prepare to get back here for the Breeders’ Cup.”