Belmont Stakes runner-up Paynter posted his fourth consecutive bullet work on Monday, motoring six furlongs in 1:11 4/5 at Del Mar, as he eyes Sunday's Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth.
The Bob Baffert trainee, who worked in company with stablemate Liaison, turned in the fastest of nine moves at the distance on Polytrack. Liaison clocked the second-best time of 1:12 2/5 and is bound for Saturday's Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga.
A late developing son of Awesome Again, out of a full sister to Hall of Famer Tiznow, Paynter was unraced as a juvenile. The Zayat Stables colt romped in his debut sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita in February, and stretching out dramatically for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, he finished a promising fourth to future Kentucky Derby and Preakness hero I'll Have Another in just his second start.
Paynter took a step forward when runner-up in the Grade 3 Derby Trial in the slop at Churchill Downs, and improved again to run away with an allowance on the Preakness undercard. He nearly pulled off a wire-to-wire victory in the June 9 Belmont, only to be denied in the final strides by Union Rags.
Since then, Paynter has been tearing up the worktab in Southern California. In his first work back on July 4 at Santa Anita, he sizzled five-eighths in a bullet :58 3/5, and drilled six furlongs in 1:12 3/5 at the same venue one week later. After shipping down to Del Mar, Paynter worked the same distance in 1:13 1/5 on July 18, and went even faster Monday.
Plans call for Paynter to fly to the Jersey Shore Thursday, sharing the plane with Haskell rival Nonios, who also recorded his final major move at Del Mar Monday.
With jockey Corey Nakatani aboard, Nonios negotiated six furlongs in 1:15 for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Owned by G.B. Smith Jr., the Pleasantly Perfect colt captured his stakes debut in the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park, and was most recently a late-running second in the Grade 2 Swaps on July 4.
Fellow Southern Californian Handsome Mike, who is trained by Doug O'Neill, has different travel plans. The Scat Daddy colt is scheduled to leave Southern California on Tuesday on a flight to New York and will be vanned to Monmouth.
Handsome Mike represents the same connections as I'll Have Another. Owned by J. Paul Reddam, he will be ridden in the Haskell by Mario Gutierrez.
In other Haskell news
Stealcase has worked himself into the 45th running of the $1 million Haskell Invitational, trainer Mark Casse confirmed Monday morning.
"He breezed so well at Saratoga yesterday [Sunday] that afterward we decided we'll be there," Casse said.
Stealcase, a son of champion Lawyer Ron, breezed five furlongs over Saratoga's main track in 1:01 4/5. Casse will name Shaun Bridgmohan as the rider when entries are taken on Thursday.
Stealcase and Paynter are no strangers. They met on April 28 in the Derby Trial and Stealcase was third, just a neck behind runner-up Paynter.
"He should have beaten Paynter that day," said Casse while discussing why owner John C. Oxley and he decided Stealcase deserves his chance to earn a Grade 1 victory.
"He lugged in [in the stretch] and right after the wire, was ahead of Paynter. Next out, he won an allowance race at Churchill by four lengths. Last out [in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill] he got into all kinds of trouble and still finished second. With the tough trip he had, I don't even know how he managed to get second."
Others definite for the 1 1/8-mile Haskell are Kentucky Derby third place finisher Dullahan and Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes winner Le Bernardin.
Possible runners include Grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes winner Gemologist, 2011 juvenile champion and Grade 3 Iowa Derby victor Hansen, Long Branch winner My Adonis and several other three-year-olds.
The Haskell is slated as the 13th race on a 14-race program with an estimated post of 6:15 p.m. (EDT). The Haskell Day card will get underway at noon, with gates opening at 11:30 a.m.