08/20/2013 3:19PM

Del Mar notes: Paynter can give Zayat great birthday gift in Woodward

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Grade 1 winner Paynter has raced twice in 2013, with a win and a runner-up finish, after recovering from severe bouts with colitis and laminitis.

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DEL MAR, Calif. – A year ago on Aug. 31, owner Ahmed Zayat celebrated his 50th birthday, and though a surprise party was thrown for him, he wasn’t fully into the moment, his mind wandering to what he had seen earlier that morning at Saratoga, where he visited a very, very ill Paynter.

“I went to visit him in the clinic and literally went to say goodbye,” Zayat recalled Tuesday morning at Del Mar. “I thought I really was saying goodbye.”

Paynter’s journey since then is well chronicled, from illness to recovery and back to the races, with a win and a close second to show from two starts in 2013.

Emotions were high for those races, and they will be again in a little less than two weeks, because exactly one year after Zayat thought he was saying goodbye to Paynter at Saratoga, Paynter is scheduled to race there in the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward Stakes, on Zayat’s 51st birthday.

“It’s ironic that Aug. 31 is the day of the race,” Zayat said.

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Zayat and several family members were out early at Del Mar on Tuesday to watch Paynter continue his preparation for the Woodward. Working in company just after the renovation break, Paynter went seven furlongs from the five-furlong pole under jockey Rafael Bejarano.

He started about 3 1/2 lengths behind, was even crossing the wire, and continued out to the six-furlong pole, with track clockers giving him an official time of 1:25.60. His trainer, Bob Baffert, had him galloping out a mile in 1:38.20.

Paynter’s work was solid, though not spectacular. However, he never has trained at his best over the Polytrack surface here, which Zayat dismissively calls “plastic.” Paynter trained in similar fashion before his powerful win in last year’s Grade 1 Haskell, so he should benefit by moving to dirt for the Woodward.

“It was not a ‘wow’ work, but he did what he needs to do,” Zayat said.

Paynter is scheduled to work once more next week at Del Mar before traveling to Saratoga, his flight, Zayat said, tentatively set for Aug. 28.

Halo Dolly back where she belongs

Halo Dolly has won 16 of 32 starts, but it is on Del Mar’s turf that she shines brightest, with four wins in five starts, the most recent coming Sunday in the Solana Beach Handicap, a race she has now won in three consecutive years.

That hat trick put Halo Dolly in rare company, as only four other horses – Flawlessly, Native Diver, Track Gal, and Zenyatta – have won the same stakes race three straight years at Del Mar.

“I really think she loves this course,” said Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Halo Dolly, 5, and owns her in a partnership. “We had been pointing for this race.”

Because of Halo Dolly’s fondness for Del Mar’s turf course, Hollendorfer plans on bringing her back in 15 days to defend her title in the Grade 2, $150,000 Yellow Ribbon Handicap on Sept. 2.

Cheering expected in press box

One of the unwritten rules of sports journalism is that there’s no cheering in the press box, but that may have to be waived for the second race Thursday because two of the race’s runners are owned in part by media members.

Jack Disney, now retired but in a previous life a longtime reporter for the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and a publicist at Santa Anita and Betfair Hollywood Park, is a principal in Indizguys Stable, which sends out Toomanytomatoes, who goes for a $25,000 claiming price in the optional-claiming event.

Disney will have to stare down Bob Ike, a public handicapper who swept the card at Del Mar on July 18 and is a partner in Summit Racing, part of the ownership group of Cotton’s Point, who beat maidens July 24 and is using her first-level allowance condition Thursday.

“Maybe there will be a little trash talk in the paddock,” Ike said.

“We’re both Occidental Tigers, though Diz was quite a few years ahead of me,” Ike added. “We’ve still got a long ways to go compared to him as owners, considering he’s won the San Juan Capistrano.”

Indizguys won the San Juan Capistrano at Santa Anita in 2007 with On the Acorn, a horse the group had claimed.