Haskell Invitational (gr. I) winner Paynter turned in his second work since making a comeback from severe illness and the subsequent surgery he underwent last year, breezing four furlongs in :50 1/5 at Santa Anita Park March 5 under jockey Martin Garcia.
The 4-year-old son of Awesome Again prefaced the move for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and Zayat Stable with a Feb. 26 breeze going three furlongs in :36 flat, his first work of 2013.
"Physically, the horse has zero issues," owner Ahmed Zayat said. "Most significantly, in terms of attitude, weight, and coat color, he's a happy horse. So many vets have checked him at Santa Anita since he's been there; we constantly keep monitoring his heath. He's been photographed almost every day and you can see that, doing what he's doing, he's loving it and he's happy. You would have never known this horse was so sick."
Paynter, who has not raced since winning the July 29 Haskell at Monmouth Park, will begin to build a regular work pattern leading to a race yet to be determined by his connections.
"We are very, very happy he's doing well and just want to get him back into a regular exercise pattern," Zayat said. "He'll breeze weekly. I haven't looked at a condition book or discussed race plans with Baffert yet; I don't want him to be under any pressure to have to meet a target. Bob told me today, 'The work was just perfect; right now he's golden.' I know Baffert's not known to work his horses slowly, but right now we're just trying to get his fitness back and not have him do more than he needs to do."
Long-term, however, there is a plan.
"My goal for this guy is to win the (Nov. 2) Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I)," the owner said. "If anybody deserves it and can go the distance it would be him. It would be a heck of a story for racing, for us, and for the fans."
Zayat said that since Paynter overcame his severe illness last summer, which earned him the 2012 Secretariat Vox Populi Award, the colt has demonstrated increased maturity.
"It seems that he's better than he used to be," Zayat said. "He's known to have his own attitude, meaning he was a little hard to handle, and it seems he's matured now and is acting more professional. His sheer power, determination, and courage inspire me every time I want to give up on something. I wouldn't have thought a horse would give me that inspiration in life, but he has. It's thrilling to see him doing well back in training; it's an absolute miracle by any kind of measure."
Paynter, bred in Kentucky by Diamond A Racing Corp out of the Cee's Tizzy mare Tizso, ran second to Union Rags in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) before winning the Haskell. While still at Monmouth, he developed an illness that landed him first in 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.
He was a $325,000 purchase at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale when consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent.