ALLOWANCE | PURSE: $62,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | 7 FURLONGS
Returning from a near-death experience last year, Paynter demolished an allowance field June 14 at Betfair Hollywood Park in his first start since winning last July's Haskell Invitational.
Paynter, looking superb as he warmed up for his seven-furlong comeback as a 2-5 choice, shook free of Majestic City leaving the sweeping far turn. He charged home on his own under steady handling from jockey Rafael Bejarano to win by 4 ½ lengths.
The 4-year-old son of Awesome Again out of the Cee's Tizzy mare Tizso turned in a final time of 1:21.86 over Hollywood's Cushion Track, one of the fastest of the current meeting. A $325,000 purchase at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale, Paynter won in his synthetic track debut.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert conditions Paynter for owner Ahmed Zayat, who was on hand to witness the gratifying performance.
"This was a celebration of life," Zayat exclaimed afterward.
Paynter was sidelined from racing a couple of days after the Haskell when he spiked a temperature at Monmouth Park. The colt was sent to a New Jersey clinic, then at the Upstate Equine Medical Center in New York, and finally at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center of Veterinary Medicine to remove an abscessed area of his colon Oct. 3. He recovered in Maryland at Fair Hill Equine Therapy and returned to Baffert's West Coast string Dec. 29.
At one point, while being treated for colitis, he had his feet fitted with casts after showing signs of the hoof disease laminitis. His weight fell to the 900-pound range before rebounding late in the year. His recovery was voted the the 2012 Moment of the Year in a poll of fans conducted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and he also won racing's Vox Populi Award.
"He is just an incredible, phenomenal horse,'' said Baffert. "I can't believe he is back. He's just a great horse.''
The victory in the $63,866 test was his his first since taking the Haskell for his first stakes triumph July 29. Seven weeks earlier, he delivered a gritty front-running effort in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes before being caught shortly before the wire by Union Rags .
Paynter was bred in Kentucky by Diamond A Racing Corp.
Breaking from post 2 in the eight-horse field of solid allowance rivals, the strapping bay colt took the early lead from Majestic City. Those two vied on a quick lead with Paynter to the inside holding a slight advantage while clipping off a :22.68 opening quarter mile. Paynter was able maintain a lead of about a half-length while completing the half in :45.67, and began to inch away leaving the quarter pole.
Coming off the rail in the stretch while driving, Paynter hit the furlong mark 2 ½ lengths in front (1:09.56) and continued to increase his margin under a hand ride and a long hold from Bejarano. Grade 3 winner Majestic City, though a distant second under David Flores, was 6 ¼ lengths clear of third-place finisher Fly Lexis Fly.
Bejarano, who was aboard Paynter for his 3 ¾-length Haskell triumph, won five races on the day to reclaim the top spot in the Hollywood Park jockey standings.
"I had a lot of pressure in the first part of the race, but I knew I had a lot of horse underneath me," Bejarano said. "I had a lot of confidence in this horse and I knew he was going to win easily. We had a fantastic trip.''
Paynter, who paid $2.80 for the win, now has four wins and two seconds from seven lifetime starts for earnings of $989,424.
"He is so courageous,'' Zayat said. "He's a true trooper, a special horse. He loves to do what he does, which is what he did today. What else can you say? Thank you, thank you Lord.''