Paynter, one of the top 3-year-olds of 2012 who was seriously ill last summer and fall with colitis and laminitis, scored an emphatic victory in his comeback race at Betfair Hollywood Park on Friday.
Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Paynter led throughout a seven-furlong allowance race, pulling away from seven overmatched rivals to win by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:21.86. The allowance race was Paynter’s first start since winning the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park last July.
The victory set off a boisterous winner’s circle celebration for owner Ahmed Zayat and his family, who traveled from the East Coast to watch Paynter’s return to racing.
“That was majestic and miraculous,” Zayat said in the winner’s circle. “He was pressed the whole way and he pulled away. This is a celebration of life.”
Paynter ($2.80) led by a half-length over Majestic City on the backstretch and turn. The competition never got closer. Paynter pulled clear in the final quarter-mile to win comfortably, giving Bejarano his fourth of five wins on the eight-race program.
Majestic City held second, finishing 6 1/4 lengths in front of Fly Lexis Fly, who was third. Last summer and fall, Paynter’s weight fell from 1,100 pounds to the low 900-pound range while he was being treated primarily for colitis in veterinary clinics in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. There were times when trainer Bob Baffert feared that Paynter would not survive his illness.
Paynter began to show improvement in October and returned to Baffert’s stable in late December. Paynter began jogging in January and had the first workout of his comeback in February.
“He went from being 99-1 to survive to 1-9 to win,” Baffert said on Friday.
“I knew he was doing well or I wouldn’t have run him, you know?” Baffert said. “You don’t know how they’ll do until you put them in the gate.
“I got emotional watching. It’s an amazing story.”
By Awesome Again, Paynter has won 4 of 7 starts and $989,420. Aside from the Haskell, Paynter was second to Union Rags in the Belmont Stakes in 2012. Baffert and Zayat said they will consider major stakes throughout the nation this summer for Paynter’s next start.
Those in his camp reacted on social media:
Paynter is a blessing. Thank you big boy. You. Are. A. Rock. Star.