Updated on 09/02/2012 12:25AM

Saratoga: Paynter's health improving but condition is still serious

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Barbara D. Livingston
Paynter, shown galloping at Saratoga last Thursday, is being treated in a clinic for colitis, his second illness since winning the July 29 Haskell.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Haskell winner Paynter was showing signs of improvement Wednesday from his battle with colitis, but he remains in a veterinary clinic near Saratoga Race Course and his connections remain very much concerned about his health.

According to owner Ahmed Zayat, Paynter’s white blood cell count, which was dangerously low on Monday and Tuesday, had doubled by Wednesday morning.

“That’s a very positive sign, his immune system is responding to what they’ve been treating him with,” Zayat said. “We are by no means out of the dangerous zone. But he’s a tough son of a gun that horse; I’m hopeful.”

Zayat said that the sickness Paynter is suffering from now is different than what ailed him following the July 29 Haskell. At that time it was feared he had pneumonia and he had a high red-blood cell count. This time, Paynter is suffering from colitis – an inflammation of the colon – and his white-cell blood count was low.

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The latest episode was discovered Sunday night, just hours before Paynter was to have been flown back to trainer Bob Baffert’s bar at Del Mar. He had a temperature that reached 104 degrees and had diarrhea, according to Zayat.

“This is far more serious because if not addressed properly . . . the mortality rate is high,” Zayat said.

Paynter, who had been at Saratoga since Aug. 22, was sent Sunday night to the Upstate Equine Medical Center in Schuylerville, N.Y. – about 10 miles from Saratoga.

Dr. Laura Javsicas is overseeing Paynter’s care at the clinic and confirmed on Wednesday that the blood tests indicated improvement.

"He’s being treated very aggressively for colitis," Javsicas said. "Diagnostic tests are pending, we do not know the exact cause [but] we have no reason to believe that it is at all related to his illness in [July]. His attitude has been good, and he definitely is still in critical condition. We had some improvement in his blood work today.”

Zayat said that doctors at that clinic told him the horse’s attitude had improved. He received a text from one of the doctors that Paynter was “out eating fresh grass and more playful.”

Paynter, who won the Haskell by nearly four lengths after getting beat a neck by Union Rags in the Belmont Stakes, was being considered for the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 22 but those plans are obviously scrapped.

Following his release from the New Jersey clinic, Paynter had spent several days in training at Belmont Park. After arriving at Saratoga on Aug. 22, Paynter galloped one day and jogged for a few more over the Oklahoma training track.