Count Dale Romans among the card-carrying members of the
Paynter Fan Club.
“I am a huge fan of Paynter’s,” Romans said when discussing
his horse’s rival in Sunday’s Grade 1 $1 million Haskell Invitational while on
a conference call with national media members on Tuesday afternoon. “He’s the
horse to beat and will be out there running. We’ll have to run him down.”
Romans will send out dual Grade 1 winner Dullahan in the 45th
running of Monmouth Park’s signature event, and the third place finisher in the
Kentucky Derby has shown a propensity for coming from off the pace. Paynter,
who is trained by five-time Haskell winner Bob Baffert, prefers to set the
fractions and just missed last out by only a neck in the Belmont Stakes.
“That was nice,” Baffert said when told of Romans’ regard
for his horse.
The courtesies will end when Paynter and Dullahan line up in
the starting gate with four other confirmed starters. Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes
winner Le Bernardin, Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes winner Nonios, plus Handsome Mike
and Stealcase, both of whom are multiple grade 3 stakes placed, will also try
capture the trophy and earn some black type.
Donegal Racing’s Dullahan arrived on the grounds late Monday
night from Kentucky and was safely tucked into Roman’s barn on the backside. He
has been training brilliantly at Churchill Downs and tuned up for the Haskell
with a five-furlong bullet work of :59.80 last Saturday.
“I kept him on one track,” said Romans. “I didn’t see any
sense in shipping him to New York
(with a contingent of his other top horses) and training him there on that
track and shipping him to Monmouth to run on a different track,” said Romans.
As for the racing surface in the Empire State, Romans said
that Dullahan did not care at all for the track when he finished a well-beaten
seventh in the Belmont Stakes as the 2-1 favorite last out.
“The track at Monmouth is not as near as deep, sandy and
cuppy as Belmont,” said Romans. “The track at Monmouth is a lot more like the
one at Churchill, and he likes that one.”
Paynter also fired a bullet in his final work for the race
on Monday, traveling six furlongs in company with Liaison in 1:11.80 at Del Mar
under Rafael Bejarano, who will be aboard for the Haskell.
“Paynter is a lazy work horse, but he galloped out one mile
in one-thirty-nine,” Baffert told the Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman.
Baffert, who won the last two editions of the Haskell with
Coil (2011) and Looking At Lucky (2010), added that Paynter hardly had the best
of trips in the Belmont.
“He got hit hard in a hind leg, skinned up his leg, and
pulled a shoe,” he said. “He was sore for a couple of days, but he came out of
it and he’s doing great.”
Zayat Stables’ Paynter and G.B. Smith,
Jr.’s Nonios will share a plane ride from Southern California and arrive on the
grounds on Thursday. Handsome Mike, trained by Doug O’Neill, is flying to New York on Tuesday and
then being vanned to Monmouth.
Nonios has only raced on the artificial surface at
California tracks in his five lifetime starts but he is a son of Pleasantly
Perfect, who won the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Classic when it was run on Santa Anita’s
dirt track, and a grandson of 1997 Haskell winner Touch Gold.
“We’re coming into the Haskell with an improving horse,”
said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. “We didn’t want to run him on the turf and I
think he’ll handle the dirt track at Monmouth just fine.”