Updated on 08/01/2012 4:01PM

Monmouth Park: Paynter gives Baffert his sixth Haskell victory

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Nikki Sherman
Paynter wins the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational under Rafael Bejarano. The Haskell was Paynter's first start since he was defeated a neck by Union Rags in the Belmont Stakes.

OCEANPORT, N.J. – Even from 3,000 miles away, trainer Bob Baffert has the magic touch when it comes to the $1 million Haskell Invitational.

Baffert won his sixth Haskell – and third straight – as Paynter, the Belmont Stakes runner-up, cruised past pacesetting Gemologist around the far turn and then repelled a challenge from Nonios to win Sunday’s Grade 1 Haskell by 3 3/4 lengths before a crowd of 35,253 at Monmouth Park.

Nonios, who stalked from third while racing along the rail, finished second by 4 1/2 lengths over Stealcase, who blew the break. Handsome Mike, Dullahan, and Gemologist, the 2-1 second choice, completed the order of finish.

It was the first stakes victory for Paynter, a son of Awesome Again, and helped ease the pain of a Triple Crown campaign in which Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat finished second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Bodemeister and second in the Belmont with Paynter.

“It was nice to finally get a big race for the Zayat connections,” Baffert said by phone from Del Mar, where he watched the race via simulcast.

Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes saddled Paynter for Baffert, who said that Paynter would ship back to Southern California on Tuesday but then return to the East Coast and run in the $1 million Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 25.

Baffert won his first Haskell in 2001 with Point Given, who also won the Travers. He also won the Haskell with War Emblem (2002), Roman Ruler (2005), Lookin At Lucky (2010), and Coil (2011).

“When you win them, it always feels like the first one, they’re exciting, they never get old,” Baffert said. “It was so exciting to watch that horse. When he turned for home, he just pinned his ears and took off. That’s the horse that Jimmy and I have always been high on.”

In the Belmont, Paynter led all the way under Mike Smith before coming off the rail late, allowing an opening for Union Rags to come through and beat him by a neck.

In the Haskell, Paynter played the role of stalker as new rider Rafael Bejarano took a hold of his horse coming out of the gate and positioned him outside of Gemologist and Javier Castellano, who was racing in the four path. Gemologist, making his first start since running 16th in the Kentucky Derby, set fractions of 23.88 seconds for the quarter and 48.01 for the half-mile. Going into the far turn, Castellano resorted to his whip to keep Gemologist going, while Bejarano had yet to ask his horse to run.

Around the far turn, Paynter took control, but Corey Nakatani, who had made a premature move down the backside on Nonios, made a second run at Paynter in upper stretch. Bejarano smacked Paynter, who responded by running away from Nonios inside the eighth pole and lengthened his stride to the wire.

Paynter covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.87 over a drying out track labeled fast and returned $4 as the favorite.

“When I saw Gemologist get the first jump, I let him go and put him right away to the outside,” Bejarano said. “I had a perfect trip because it was a better track on the outside, and it was very good for him.”

Barnes said that he and Baffert had been training Paynter to come from off the pace and was happy to see Gemologist make the lead.

“I didn’t really want to be on the lead myself,” Barnes said. “I’m glad Rafael [grabbed him] and put him to the outside, which is where he needed to be. I don’t think you want to be on the inside on this track, it’s a little heavy. He was in the fast lane, just cruising.”

Castellano said it was his plan to stalk, but his horse broke so well that he was content to be on the lead.

“My horse beat the gate, and he just galloped along on the lead,” Castellano said. “When Paynter got after him, I didn’t have much horse to go forward. Really surprised because he’s a game horse, he fights all the time. Today, he didn’t fight at all.”

In his first start on dirt, Nonios ran well to be second, racing along the inside and making two moves at Paynter.

“It didn’t look like anybody was going to beat Paynter today,” Jerry Hollendorfer, the trainer of Nonios said. “He was on the better part of the track, and his rider gave him a real smart ride. I’m grateful to have a good horse.”

Hollendorfer said he would ship Nonios back to Southern California, but would consider returning East for the Travers.

Stealcase also ran well after spotting the field several lengths at the break. Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan said the colt turned his head right before the doors opened.

“He heard the crowd and he goes to turning his head, and it cost him the break,” Bridgmohan said.

Trainer Mark Casse was leaning against a start in the Travers.