Continuing a storybook comeback from near death last spring after winning the Haskell Invitational (gr. I), Paynter will pack highweight of 122 pounds versus five solid rivals July 27 in the $200,000 San Diego Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar.
Sensational winner of a seven-furlong sprint at Betfair Hollywood Park June 14, his first race since recovering from the serious illnesses that almost claimed his life, Zayat Stables' Paynter will again have Rafael Bejarano in the saddle for the 1 1/16-mile San Diego.
The San Diego is Del Mar's major steppingstone to the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I) Aug. 25. It is carded as the eighth of a 10-race program with a scheduled post time of 5:40 p.m. PDT.
Paynter’s opposition will include Liaison , his stablemate from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and a proven stakes performer; Kettle Corn , runner-up to Game on Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I); 3-year-old Chief Havoc, decisive winner of the Swaps Stakes (gr. II); and the always-dangerous Clubhouse Ride, victorious in The Californian (gr. II) June 1. Completing the lineup will be the speedy Batti Man, who figures to be prominent in the early stages of the San Diego.
A 4-year-old son of Awesome Again , Paynter was one of the best sophomore runners in America after finishing a hard-luck second to Union Rags in the 2012 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and then rolling to an easy victory in the Haskell. A variety of medical problems then had the colt near death for two months.
Miraculously, he recovered and appeared to have lost none of his ability when he won last month at Hollywood Park. He ran seven-eighths in a flashy 1:21.86 over the Cushion Track, winning the high-priced allowance by 4 1/2 lengths as the 2-5 favorite.
C R K Stable's Kettle Corn appears to be the top rival off his fine runner-up effort in the Gold Cup, finishing one length behind Game On Dude while wearing blinkers for trainer John Sadler. Victor Espinoza regains the mount on the 6-year-old son of Candy Ride from Bejarano, and they drew the rail.
Kettle Corn is also entered in Del Mar's Cougar II Handicap (gr. III) the day before the San Diego.
Liaison, owned by Arnold Zetcher, makes his first appearance since running second as the even-money favorite in the Californian, 2 1/4 lengths behind Clubhouse Ride. That snapped a two-race win streak for the 4-year-old Indian Charlie colt, including a victory in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood.
Clubhouse Ride, a 5-year-old by Candy Ride, tired to fourth in the Gold Cup but gets back to a more comfortable distance here for Six-S Racing Stable and trainer Craig Lewis. He has lost four of his past five starts in races won by Game On Dude, taking the Californian in his only start in which he did not face the multiple grade I winner.
Paul Makin's fast-developing Chief Havoc has won his past two starts for trainer Peter Miller in front-running fashion and faces older rivals for the firt time since breaking his maiden by 7 1/4 lengths April 4 at Santa Anita Park.
$200,000 San Diego Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, 5:40 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Kettle Corn (KY), V Espinoza, 118, J W Sadler
2. Batti Man (ARG), B Blanc, 114, D L Hendricks
3. Paynter (KY), R Bejarano, 122, B Baffert
4. Liaison (KY), M Garcia, 120, B Baffert
5. Chief Havoc (KY), E A Maldonado, 115, P Miller
6. Clubhouse Ride (KY), J Talamo, 118, C A Lewis