Here we go testing your memory and exposing our age. If you don’t understand the true essence of sports it is easy to wonder sometimes why. Why do certain folks do certain things. Thoroughbred runner Pavel may cause some to scratch their noggin when they see he is entered in his ninth consecutive graded stakes event on Saturday June 16. To top that, it is his sixth grade 1 start since last October and his highest finish in the previous five has been a third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. So why is this Doug O’Neill trained charge shipping from the West coast to Churchill Downs for the Stephen Foster Handicap? It’s pretty simple…he wants to be Bucky Dent.

Bucky Dent was a highly regarded shortstop coming out of high school that was selected number 6 overall in the Major League draft. The Savannah, Georgia native did not blossom into a superstar, but he was always solid and was a part of some good lineups. Never really considered a hero, Dent was usually under the radar. In 1978, he was part of the powerhouse defending champion New York Yankees lineup the came from 14 games back to tie the Boston Red Sox for the Eastern division crown. A one-game playoff at Fenway Park saw the Sox cruise into the 7th inning with a 2-0 lead. With two men aboard, the light hitting shortstop stepped into the box as the number 9 hitter in the Yankee lineup. One mighty swing later the guy nobody thought much of had given the Yanks a 3-2 lead with a launch over the green monster. The Bronx Bombers would go on to win the game 5-4, beat the Kansas City Royals in the American League championship, and then vanquish the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. Bucky hit .417 in the fall classic and was named MVP.

Okay, so what’s the point here? Dent could have easily been replaced by a “heavier hitter” in the lineup, but Bob Lemon, the Yankee skipper, gave the guy a chance to be somebody and as the New Yorkers say “bada bing”. Pavel is a talented Thoroughbred that has given his connections every indication he belongs with the best. A solid fourth place finish in the Dubai World Cup on March 31 was followed by an encouraging fourth place in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita on May 26.

“This is a horse that tells us in the mornings he has grade 1 talent,” says his trainer Doug O’Neill. “The only bad race in his nine starts came in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar. He works very well and he has certainly held his own against some very good company. He has been looking really good in his recent works and we look forward for the chance to run in a grade 1 at Churchill Downs.”

As has been the case in most of Pavel’s starts, the opposition will be tough. Battle-tested winners like Backyard Heaven (2018 Alysheba winner), Irish War Cry (2018 Pimlico Special winner) and Hawaakom (2018 Razorback winner) are just some of a murderer’s row that this son of Creative Cause will take on in the Breeders’ Cup win and you’re in race. Always working to improve his horse, O’Neill sends Pavel to the plate in search of his first fastball since scoring in the grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes last September at PARX. When he walks into the starting gates for the mile and an eighth race beneath the twin spires it will be the seventh different track he will have run at in ten lifetime starts.

“I give a lot of credit to the folks at Reddam Racing,” says O’Neill. “They believe in the horse and want to give him an opportunity on the big stage. They are giving him the chance to be Bucky Dent and for that I am very thankful.”

First post is at 6 pm and the $500,000 Stephen Foster is slotted as race 8 with a post time of 9:39 eastern.