Last summer, the Zayat Stables-owned and Bob Baffert-trained Paynter was one of the top three-year-olds after a good looking win in the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park, and he was being pointed toward the $1 million Travers Stakes (G1), the “Mid Summer Derby” run at Saratoga.
However, the talented colt spiked a fever, and a trip to the Upstate Equine Medical Center was followed by the discovery the colt had colitis, which is an inflammation of the colon and is often used to describe an inflammation of the large intestine. Matters became worse when the colt developed laminitis, which affect his legs and hooves.
Things looked dire, and on several occasions, his trainer got a call stating that the colt may have to be euthanized.
But surgery to remove part of his intestine sent him on the road to recovery, although most did not think he would ever make it back to the races.
He did however, and did it in a big way. After nearly a year on the sidelines, fighting for his life for several months, he returned to the racetrack on June 14 at Hollywood Park to take on allowance company.
The colt looked as if he never missed a day of training, rolling to a 4 ½ length victory and earning his best Beyer Speed Figure of his career (114).
Next up was a return to face stakes company, and Baffert entered him in the San Diego Handicap (G2) at Del Mar on polytrack (a synthetic surface), where he ran well in a runner-up finish to Kettle Corn.
Now on Saturday, he steps back up to face top class competition when he takes on five foes in the $750,000 Woodward (G1) at Saratoga.
With the late scratch of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) champion Fort Larned, Paynter is the 2-1 morning line favorite.
If he is able to win on Saturday, he then would become of the favorites for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which will be held this November at Santa Anita Park.
It has been an incredible journey for this tough colt, one of the most remarkable comebacks in recent history.
"It's an incredible story," said Baffert on the Zayat Stables website. “It was so emotional, what he went through for two months. Now that he's back, I really want him to take on the big guys, because he's a big guy himself."
While racing fans will be rooting the colt home, betting could lead us in another direction. Here are my top three picks for the Woodward:
Successful Dan (5-2) is coming off a solid effort in the Whitney Handicap (G1) in his first start over the Spa main track. The gelding raced near the back of the pack, came with a six wide rally and came up just three-quarters of a length short of the top spot behind the gate to wire winner Cross Traffic, who was taking advantage of an inside-speed favoring racing strip. He did finish in front of three foes he faces again today.
He could be pace compromised with the scratches of Cross Traffic and Fort Larned, but this guy has shown an ability to track, and he even took the Ben Ali (G3) at Keeneland over polytrack in gate to wire fashion. He had an excused two back in his fourth in the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1).
The gelding tracked the early pace while three wide, was steadied when caught in tight at the 3/16's and flattened out. He is a winner of eight of his 14 starts and of course is a half-brother to the 2012 Horse of the Year, Wise Dan. The key here is the ride from Julian Leparoux, who needs to keep the gelding within striking distance early.
Flat Out (3-1) is coming into this race off a sharp win in the Suburban (G2) at Belmont Park at today's distance. The seven-year-old bobbled coming out of the gate, prompted the early pace and finished up well to win by 2 1/2 lengths. The runner-up, Last Gunfighter, came back to win the Iselin (G3) at Monmouth Park in his next outing on Aug. 18.
He is known to be virtually unbeatable at Belmont Park and is 0-for-3 over the main track at the Spa, but has run well here. Last year, he was third in the Whitney behind Fort Larned and Ron the Greek, and he ran big in this race in 2011 when second to Havre de Grace. His trainer Bill Mott has won this race three times, with Cigar in 1995 and 1996 and last year with To Honor and Serve.
Paynter (2-1) makes his third start since coming back off a year layoff and his battle with colitis and laminitis which not only threatened to end his racing career but also his life. His return race against allowance foes at Hollywood Park was breathtaking, drawing away to win by 4 1/2 lengths and earning a 114 Beyer.
He came back with a solid effort in a runner-up finish to Kettle Corn in the San Diego Handicap (G2) over the polytrack at Del Mar. Kettle corn came back to run second in the Pacific Classic (G1) behind Game On Dude. His last start on conventional dirt was a good looking win in the Haskell Invitational (G1) last July, which was his first start after getting run down late in the Belmont (G1) by Union Rags.
It is interesting that his Beyer Speed Figure went from 114 to 100 last out while the BRIS were 105 and 104. The colt seems to have the tactical advantage as the main speed in here and he looks primed for a top effort third off the bench. The main knock is his price is likely going to end up on the light side.
Morning line odds from NYRA.
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