Paynter to Rejoin Baffert, Wins Vox Populi

Haskell Invitational winner will ship to California Dec. 29, owner Ahmed Zayat said.

Haskell Invitational (gr. I) winner Paynter  will ship Dec. 29 from Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center near Elkton, Md., to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's California barn, owner Ahmed Zayat confirmed Dec. 26, the same day it was announced the colt had won the 2012 Secretariat Vox Populi Award.

Paynter, a 3-year-old son of Awesome Again , has been recovering in Maryland from surgery undergone Oct. 3 at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center of Veterinary Medicine to remove an abscessed area of his colon. The abscess was discovered when Paynter developed an illness that landed him first in a New Jersey clinic, then at the Upstate Equine Medical Center in New York, after he ran second to Union Rags  in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and won the Haskell.

According to Zayat, the colt will be on a direct flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport. Zayat said he and his family will greet Paynter upon his arrival.

Zayat and his son Justin kept fans informed about Paynter's progress via their respective Twitter accounts, @jazz3162 and @justinzayat.

The public voted for Paynter to recieve the Vox Populi award. His victory was announced by Penny Chenery in a phone interview with HRTV Dec. 26.

The award recognizes the horse whose popularity and racing excellence best resounded with the American public and gained recognition for Thoroughbred racing.

Paynter was a late addition to the list of Vox Populi nominees after fans objected when he was missing from the first round selected by judges. The other nominees for the award, which will be presented at Santa Anita Park Dec. 29, were Frankel, I'll Have Another , Royal Delta, Shackleford , Shanghai Bobby , and Wise Dan.

Paynter exploded onto the racing scene early this year when his maiden performance prompted owner Zayat Stables and Baffert to send the stunning colt on the Triple Crown trail. His near-miss in the Belmont Stakes and brilliant performance in the Haskell further impressed fans and racing analysts. But it has been his tenacious battles with health issues, including laminitis, and Zayat Stables' continued updates of his progress through social media, that captured the attention of the racing community and fans all over the world.            

The colt developed laminitis, a painful disease that attacks the sensitive inner tissue of hooves, during his recovery from his colon abscess. Secretariat and 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro both died as a result of the condition. It is hoped that now that he is healthy, he will be able to return to racing in 2013 as he continues to gain weight and his health improves.

"Paynter's popularity stems from his ability to battle and exceed expectations, making him the perfect choice as the recipient of this year's Vox Populi Award," Chenery remarked. "After seeing firsthand the devastating effects of this disease, I am even more convinced that the industry must continue to diligently fight laminitis. The progress we have made to date clearly benefited Payntera beautiful colt with a tremendous spirit."

Chenery will present the custom-made Vox Populi trophy to Paynter's connections, including Baffert and jockeys Rafael Bejarano and Mike Smith, at Santa Anita Park Dec. 29.

Paynter also garnered a nomination for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's "Moment of the Year" fan poll, open until Jan. 2.