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>Joe Pavia Jr. has a couple reasons to look forward to the next few weeks, and beyond.

First, the 51-year-old native of New York entered this past Wednesday's cards of racing needing only nine driving wins to reach 5,000 for his career. Second, he trains three-year-old pacing colt Steelhead Hanover, who is regarded as one of the potential top performers in his division.

Steelhead Hanover, a son of Bettors Delight--Special Beauty bred by Hanover Shoe Farms, won four of 13 races last year and earned $147,290 for owners AGC Stables, Dijo Racing, Joseph Barbera and Steven Held. Three of his victories came on the New York Sire Stakes circuit and he ended the season by finishing third in the Matron Stakes at Dover Downs.

The colt is No. 22 in the inaugural Hoof Beats/TrackMaster Predictive Rankings for three-year-old pacers, which attempt to forecast the fastest performers for 2012.

“He’s coming back good,” Pavia said about Steelhead Hanover. “He’s scheduled to train in 2:10 (Saturday). He’s going to qualify on March 24; I’ll probably qualify at Pompano somewhere around (1:) 55 and then I’ll ship up north and give him a few weeks break there. We’ll qualify again in mid-April up at Pocono and get him started in an overnight and get him ready for his season.”

Pavia is racing at Pompano Park in Florida this winter and will return to his base at Pocono Downs in a month or so. Pavia, who last year notched 138 of his 190 driving wins at Pocono Downs, would like to get win No. 5,000 before heading north.

“Ironically, when I first started driving, I was dreaming of winning 5,000 races,” Pavia said. “It’s funny that’s the number I picked, but it seemed like all the top drivers at the time were around 5,000. To meet that goal is unbelievable. It’s a great milestone. I’ve had great owners over the years --- I’m really proud of that --- and driven for good trainers.”

Pavia, who won a career-high 331 races in 2006 and lifetime-best $3.19-million in 2009, missed nearly nine months of action from June 2007 to February 2008 as the result of an accident at the Meadowlands. Pavia suffered a severe concussion and broken arm.

“I’m proud of the way I bounced back from it,” Pavia said. “My wife (Dawn) was very inspirational. I was pretty grouchy for a while; I don’t know how she put up with me. She’s always been a force and keeps pushing me. She motivates me quite a bit.”

One of Pavia’s biggest thrills came in 1992 when he won the Mistletoe Shalee with Dolce at odds of 45-1. He hopes to add to the list with Steelhead Hanover this season. Although the colt will not compete in some of the top stakes, such as the Meadowlands Pace and North America Cup, he is eligible to race in the Cane Pace, Little Brown Jug and Messenger, plus the New York Sire Stakes.

“I think he’s a good colt, but I don’t know if he’s a top-of-the-line colt,” Pavia said.


“We’re going to duck the big boys as much as we can. If we do face the big boys we’ll try to meet them on a five-eighths-mile (track) or half-mile (track), which is a little bit more to our liking. We’re going to pick our spots.

“I’m not too proud. We’ll try to make a nice chunk of money with him at three. My owners are very good. They’re looking to have a nice year and enjoy it. They’re very good owners, very sensible. They realize what they have.”

Steelhead Hanover was purchased for $75,000 as a yearling and is a half-brother to Sprig Hanover, who lost the Jugette in a race-off to Good News Lady in 2008.

Last year, Steelhead Hanover had the misfortune of ending up in fields with Heston Blue Chip on seven occasions; four times in the New York Sire Stakes, twice in the Matron and in the John Simpson Stakes. Heston Blue Chip won 11 of 13 races last season and is No. 4 in the Hoof Beats/TrackMaster ratings.

“My colt made $147,000 and he probably should have made $247,000, but he caught Heston all those times,” Pavia said with a sigh and a laugh. “Heston was our nemesis. We could go with Heston, but we couldn’t beat him. He was just a real tough horse.”

Pavia enjoys training Steelhead Hanover as well as driving the colt.

“I have a passion for driving, but when you drive your own and train your own, you get a little more reward out of it,” he said. “When I win with one of mine and get to see the joy and happiness of my owners, it makes it doubly worth it. I feel like I’ve accomplished something a little more.”