Updated on 06/15/2013 12:00PM

Hollywood Park: Paynter continues remarkable comeback in Friday allowance race

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Barbara D. Livingston
Paynter will make his first start Friday since a life-threatening illness.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – There was a time last fall when Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was resigned to losing the 3-year-old colt Paynter to disease.

Paynter won the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in July 2012, but was hospitalized for most of the next two months with colic and laminitis.

“I kept telling my wife, ‘Horses don’t survive this,’ ” Baffert said Wednesday.

Paynter fought through illness and spent the rest of the fall regaining strength. The colt rejoined Baffert’s stable in late December and resumed workouts in February.

Friday at Betfair Hollywood Park, Paynter makes his first start since the Haskell in a $62,000 allowance race over seven furlongs. A colt once so ill that owner Ahmed Zayat and his family feared would be euthanized is ready to resume racing.

“It’s amazing,” Baffert said. “I never thought when he went to the clinic that we’d be talking about him [racing]. It will be neat to have a horse like him back.”

Baffert has been eager for a day like Friday since Paynter returned to Southern California last December.

“When he got off the van, he looked healthy,” Baffert said. “They didn’t send him to me until he was 100 percent.”

Paynter was second to Union Rags in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes last June and was brilliant in the Haskell, winning by 3 3/4 lengths as the even-money favorite. The win suggested that Paynter would play a leading role in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga a month later and be a colt to follow in the important races of the fall.

But within days of the Haskell victory, Paynter spiked a fever that forced him out of training. A few weeks later, Paynter was at Saratoga when he was taken to a clinic in upstate New York and diagnosed with severe colic that had veterinarians concerned. At the same time, Paynter was found to have early-stage laminitis, a hoof disease.

Paynter was given an aggressive treatment for laminitis and underwent surgery in early October to have abscessed tissue removed from his cecum, a pouch in the equine large intestine.

During those weeks, Justin Zayat, Ahmed’s son, feared the worst only to be surprised by Paynter’s recovery.

“He would show us signs that he was making a step forward,” Justin Zayat said. “He would one-up us.

“He’s always been an aggressive horse. He’d try to bite everyone. When he was sick, he was a calm patient. He just sucked it up.”

During those months, a continuation of his racing career was considered an afterthought.

“We weren’t thinking of running him at the time,” Justin Zayat said. “We were thinking of saving the horse.”

Paynter’s weight dropped to the low 900-pound range last fall. He was more than 1,100 pounds by the end of the year. His recovery from the illnesses was voted as the 2012 Moment of the Year in a poll of fans conducted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

In February, Paynter resumed workouts and has worked steadily in recent weeks. Friday’s allowance race has drawn a field of eight and is the seventh race on an eight-race program. The race will be run at approximately 4 p.m. Pacific.

Paynter will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, who was aboard for the win in the Haskell.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Baffert said. “It’s a start.”

Paynter, who is by Awesome Again, faces a field that includes Kate’s Event, winner of the $125,000 Tiznow Stakes for California-breds on April 27; and the two-time stakes winner Majestic City, who was fourth in the Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap on May 27.

Win or lose, Baffert said that having Paynter back to the races has been gratifying, considering the events of last summer and fall.

“It was very depressing to watch him go through that,” he said. “The horse has a huge fan base. At least we can get him going now.”

Paynter time line

Feb. 18, 2012 – Wins debut by 4 1-4 lengths in maiden special weight race over 5 1-2 furlongs at Santa Anita.

April 7, 2012 – Makes stakes debut in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, finishing fourth, 3 3-4 lengths behind I’ll Have Another.

April 28, 2012 – Places in a stakes for the first time, finishing second by 1 1-2 lengths to Hierro in the Grade 3 Derby Trial Stakes at Churchill Downs.

June 9, 2012 – Finishes second in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, leading by a length with a furlong remaining before losing by a neck to Union Rags.

July 29, 2012 – Wins first stakes with a convincing victory by 3 3-4 lengths in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

July 31, 2012 – Sent to Mid-Atlantic Equine Medical Center in Ringoes, N.J., after developing an illness following Haskell.

Aug. 23, 2012 – Gallops at Saratoga’s Oklahoma training track, having been sent to train there earlier in the month.

Aug. 26, 2012 – Taken to Upstate Equine Medical Clinic in Schuylerville, N.Y., suffering from colitis.

Sept. 4, 2012 – Continues to undergo treatment for colitis, has feet fitted with casts after showing signs of hoof disease laminitis.

Sept. 21, 2012 – Owner Ahmed Zayat says that colt’s condition has improved and that horse is “happy and comfortable.”

Oct. 1, 2012 – Undergoes surgery at New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania to have an abscess removed from his cecum, a pouch in the large intestine.

Oct. 15, 2012 – Sent to Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center in Maryland to continue recovery. Weight said to be in low 900-pound range.

Dec. 29, 2012 – Returns to trainer Bob Baffert’s stable at Santa Anita after condition improved through the fall.

Jan. 5, 2013 – Begins training at Santa Anita with a routine jog.

Feb. 26, 2013 – Works three furlongs in 36 seconds, first workout since preceding July.

May 17, 2013 – Works six furlongs in 1:12.60 at Betfair Hollywood Park, first six-furlong workout since returning to training.

June 14, 2013 – Entered to start in a $62,000 allowance race over seven furlongs at Betfair Hollywood Park.