Grade 1 winner Paynter, whose comeback from life-threatening illness more than a year ago was stalled on track in the Woodward Stakes, will attempt to atone at Santa Anita Park Sept. 28 in a stakes named for his sire, Awesome Again.
Zayat Stables' Paynter, who took ill following his win in the Haskell Invitational Stakes in July 2012, did not take to the sloppy going in the Woodward Aug. 31 at Saratoga Race Course, fading to finish last of five in the 1 ⅛-mile test. One of three entered in the $250,000 Awesome Again Stakes by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, Paynter will face a solid field of 10 that includes Mucho Macho Man, runner-up in last year's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
The race, known until last year as the Goodwood, carries an automatic slot in this year's Breeders' Cup Classic. Baffert won last year's Awesome Again with Game On Dude but the top-ranked runner is sitting out this one after a record-breaking performance in the Pacific Classic last month. He will instead train up to his third try in the Classic following a seventh-place finish last year as the favorite.
Baffert will also be represented by the lightly raced Take Control and Liaison in the nine-furlong Awesome Again, which headlines a card that includes five Grade 1 events Sept. 28. It is race 10 with a 5:30 p.m. PDT scheduled post.
After narrowly escaping death due to laminitis and colitis over several months, Paynter returned to action at Betfair Hollywood Park June 14, crushing a classified allowance field going seven furlongs by 4 ½ lengths. The 4-year-old bay colt next ran second when a little short in the San Diego Handicap July 27 on the Polytrack at Del Mar, leading until caught in the final strides by Kettle Corn. That effort set up his return to the East Coast in the Woodward.
Paynter hit the gate at the start of the Woodward, and the 3-2 favorite could never get on even terms with Alpha, who ran away with a gate-to-wire upset. Paynter fought to remain in contention in the soupy conditions until dropping back on the far turn, eventually defeated by 12 ½ lengths. He has put in three solid works this month back home at Santa Anita, including a handy :48 ⅕ half-mile move most recently Sept. 24.
Martin Garcia, who rode Paynter to a 4 ¼-length debut maiden victory at Santa Anita in February 2012, regains the mount from Rafael Bejarano, who moves to Liaison. Paynter drew post 7.
Baffert, who with a victory could tie Charlie Whittingham with most victories in the race with five, needs to see a reversal in form from Arnold Zetcher's Liaison. The 4-year-old son of Indian Charlie won the Mervy LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood in May but has lost three straight since. Baffert also has Kaleem Shah's Take Control, who would be making just his fourth start and his first since finishing a close fourth in the 2012 San Diego. Rosie Napravnik has the call.
Mucho Macho Man, who drew the far outside post for trainer Kathy Ritvo, will also be among the favorites for Reeves Thoroughbreds. The 5-year-old son of Macho Uno has put in two solid works over the Santa Anita main track this month since arriving from Saratoga following his third-place finish in the Whitney Invitational Handicap. He was timed in a bullet :59 ⅕ Sept. 14, best of 58 a couple of days after his arrival in Southern California, then returned one week later with a 1:01 clocking.
Ritvo noted that Mucho Macho man "ran a great race" in last year's BC Classic over the Santa Anita track, finishing a half-length behind Fort Larned following a stirring stretch battle and earning a career-best Beyer figure of 116. The big Florida-bred bay has yet to win in three starts this season.
"He's really smart. He's confident and he loves to train," said Ritvo, whose husband Tim, a former jockey and trainer, is president of Gulfstream Park. "My husband was training 'Macho' before I did."
Gary Stevens, looking for a record fifth win in the Goodwood/Awesome Again, takes the mount on Mucho Macho Man. They are likely to use some speed early to gain a position on the outside of the fast-footed Paynter.
The 124-pound high weight is multiple Grade 1 winner Jeranimo, who will be making his first start on dirt for trainer Mike Pender. The 7-year-old son of Congaree , a 10-time winner who has earned $1.4 million, rallied stoutly from last to capture the Eddie Read Stakes on the Del Mar turf two starts back. The accomplished closer had no response when tried on Polytrack in the Pacific Classic, however, finishing ninth at 18-1 odds.
Golden Ticket, last year's Travers Stakes winner in a dead-heat with Alpha, has been entered by trainer Ken McPeek. The 4-year-old Speightstown colt is also entered in the inaugural Homecoming Classic at Churchill Downs Saturday off his eight-length romp in the listed Prairie Meadows Handicap July 27.
You Know I Know comes off a big third-place effort at 40-1 in the Pacific Classic for trainer John Sadler. Synthetic specialist Summer Hit tries dirt for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. California-bred Soi Phet steps way up in class off a four-race win streak for trainer Leonard Powell. Completing the field is 3-year-old Chief Havoc, winner of the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood in July and most recently seventh in the grassy Del Mar Derby Sept. 1.