07/25/2013 3:02PM

Twitter captured Paynter saga's ups and downs

Shigeki Kikkawa
Racing fans were kept up to date on Paynter's volatile condition through regular tweets made by owners Ahmed and Justin Zayat.

As Paynter’s health ebbed and flowed in the summer and fall of 2012, he gained a devoted following on the social-networking site Twitter, thanks to his owners, Ahmed Zayat (@jazz3162) and son Justin (@JustinZayat), who posted regular updates about the horse’s condition.

Followers of Paynter and his struggle interacted with the Zayats on a daily basis as new information was made available, organized under the hashtag “#PowerUpPaynter,” a phrase coined by the elder Zayat.

“My dad’s one of the best businessmen I know, and it wasn’t even from a business perspective,” the younger Zayat said about the phrase’s origin. “He just wanted to root for his horse, and that’s how he roots. He’d always come up with these random slogans about our horses.”

Looking back, the tweets posted by the Zayats showed just how volatile Paynter’s situation was on a day-to-day basis.

For example, on Aug. 31, 2012, Ahmed Zayat described an optimistic phone conversation “with a lot of laughter and happiness” regarding the colt’s condition with primary attending veterinarian Laura Javsicas. Three days later, he tweeted a solemn message informing readers about an infection Paynter had developed at the site of his feeding catheter, paired with problematic blood clotting. The following day, the colt was found to have the early stages of laminitis in three of his feet.

The public attention added a new dimension for the staff treating Paynter as well. Never before had the Internet cared as much about when and how a horse relieved himself than it did in the summer of 2012.

“It definitely put a spin on things,” Javsicas said. “I’ve managed a lot of very critical cases, but it’s not too often that you have their progress being updated to people via Twitter constantly. It was at times stressful to have the whole world watching, but in the end, it was great having all the fans’ support.”

While Paynter’s racing campaign was cut short before he could make his case for an Eclipse Award (he received one vote for champion 3-year-old male), his online following helped the colt earn some year-end hardware.

Paynter’s recovery was named “Moment of the Year” for 2012 by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and Javsicas accepted the award on the Zayats’ behalf at the Eclipse Awards ceremony. He also won the Vox Populi award, an honor similar to the People’s Choice Awards in entertainment. Paynter was initially left off the ballot of finalists by the award’s organizers, but an online campaign was launched to have him included, and the wave of support carried him to the award.

“The fans helped us in our most dire times with the horse,” Justin Zayat said. “Every single time, people would be sending us tweets and messages saying, ‘We’re here, we’re thinking about Paynter, and you’re in our prayers.’ People all over the world were following this horse. It wasn’t only in America. They are a huge, huge part of making Paynter what he is today.”