HASKELL INVITATIONAL | PURSE: $1,000,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 1 | 1 1/8 MILES
Zayat Stables' Paynter romped to a 3 3/4-length triumph over Nonios in Sunday's Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational, furthering Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's stranglehold on Monmouth Park's signature race. Baffert, who already owned the record, has now sent out an unprecedented sixth Haskell winner, and his third in a row.
Paynter was coming off a last-gasp loss to Union Rags in the June 9 Belmont Stakes, capping a heartbreaking Triple Crown series for his connections. Stablemate and fellow Zayat standard-bearer Bodemeister had similarly been collared late by I'll Have Another in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
With the retirements of both I'll Have Another and Union Rags due to injury, the mantle of leading active three-year-old is now up for grabs, and Paynter stated his case with alacrity in the Haskell.
The Awesome Again colt looked rather sweaty in the post parade, but that didn't affect his odds, or his performance. Clipped to even-money favoritism as he entered the gate, Paynter didn't break as sharply as his market rival Gemologist, the 2-1 second choice, who blasted straight to the lead.
As Gemologist posted an opening quarter in :23 4/5, Paynter was guided into a perfect stalking spot on the outside by new rider Rafael Bejarano. Gemologist raced a couple of paths off the rail, and the opening was too inviting for the rail-drawn Nonios down the backstretch. Nonios took the opportunity to move up along the inside and press Gemologist through a half in :48.
The pacesetter inched away again from Nonios nearing the far turn, and Paynter, covering that move, drew up to Gemologist's throatlatch through six furlongs in 1:11 1/5. For a few strides, the two principals promised to serve up a rousing duel. But Gemologist wasn't traveling as sweetly as Paynter was. Jockey Javier Castellano had to resort to the whip surprisingly early rounding the final turn, and there was no response.
Now that his nearest competitor was finished, Paynter quickly opened up swinging for home. The only possible challenger was Nonios, who by this time had angled to the outside. The rest of the field were all soundly beaten.
As if hearing the approach of Nonios' hoofbeats, Paynter found another gear down the stretch. The sharply improving bay stamped his authority in decisive terms, reaching the mile in 1:36 1/5 and completing 1 1/8 miles on the fast track in 1:48 4/5. Paynter furnished mutuels of $4, $2.60 and $2.40.
Nonios finished 4 1/2 lengths ahead of Stealcase, who closed from last to grab third. Handsome Mike reported home fourth, trailed by Dullahan and Gemologist.
Paynter's first career stakes victory boosted his bankroll to $952,224 from his 6-3-2-0 line. Unraced at two, he impressively won his February 18 debut in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden at Santa Anita. Paynter was pitched straight into the deep end in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby April 7, where he was trying classy and seasoned opponents while stretching out to 1 1/8 miles. A poor start didn't help, but he still finished a creditable fourth to I'll Have Another.
Runner-up in the Grade 3 Derby Trial next time out at a sloppy Churchill Downs April 28, Paynter showed that he was heading in the right direction with a 5 3/4-length decision in an allowance on Preakness Day at Pimlico. His progress continued in the Belmont Stakes, with only Union Rags thwarting a wire-to-wire score.
Bred by Diamond A Racing Corp. in Kentucky, Paynter was a $325,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase. He is a half-brother to Grade 3 winner Tiz West, stakes queen Tizakitty and the stakes-placed Tizalovelylady.
Paynter is out of the Cee's Tizzy mare Tizso, a full full sister to Hall of Famer Tiznow as well as multiple Grade 2 star and $2.8 million-earner Budroyale, Grade 2 victress Tizdubai and Grade 2-placed stakes scorer Tizbud.