Zayat Stables’ Paynter put on a brilliant show in the $1
million Haskell Invitational (G1) on Sunday, drawing off for an easy score to
give trainer Bob Baffert an unprecedented sixth victory and third straight in
Monmouth Park’s signature event before a crowd of 35,253.
The bay colt by Awesome Again, who came close in the Belmont
Stakes last out when he finished just a neck behind Union Rags, put himself
squarely in the 3-year-old championship picture as he made his even-money
starting price look like a bargain in the Haskell.
Paynter, with Rafael Bejarano aboard for the first time,
allowed Gemologist to set most of the early fractions, and then put that rival
away rounding the stretch turn. He came into the straight two lengths in front,
with only Nonios mounting a late charge. Through the final furlong, Paynter
pulled away from Nonios to score by nearly four lengths, stopping the timer in
1:48.87 for the mile and an eighth on a fast track.
Nonios held second by four and a half lengths over a
late-closing Stealcase, the 28-1 shot who was off to a tardy beginning.
Handsome Mike ran fourth, with Dullahan and Gemologist finishing in the final
Paynter paid $4, $2.60 and $2.40 across the board as the
favorite, and topped a $21.40 exacta with Nonios, who returned $5.20 to place
and $3.80 to show. Stealcase paid $5 to show.
Baffert, who watched the race on television from his Del
Mar, California, headquarters with assistant trainer Jim Barnes doing the
saddling honors at Monmouth, was ecstatic over his horse’s performance.
“Jimmy and I have always been high on him,” Baffert said of
Paynter. “It was nice to finally get a big win for Zayat (Stables) and with
When asked what it was like to win a sixth Haskell, the
trainer said, “When you win, they always feel like the first one. They’re all
exciting and they never get old.”
Baffert said that Paynter showed in his Del Mar works that
he was ready to roll today.
“He worked really well there getting ready for this,” the
trainer said. “He came here and showed us he is a serious horse.”
Bejarano, who had been working Paynter in the mornings but
had never ridden the colt, was given a chance on him for the Haskell and came
“I knew I could come from off the pace if I wanted to,” the
jockey said. “I pulled him to the outside and that was that. He ran so easy.
“I knew Gemologist was the horse to beat, but if he wanted
to go to the lead, that was fine. At the half-mile pole, my horse blew by him
and that was that.
“It was thrilling for me to win the Haskell. It’s a great
race, and great for my career.”
Gemologist, who started the 2-1 second choice, battled for
the lead from the start, and held the advantage over Paynter through a
half-mile in :48. Paynter, just a length behind, challenged Gemologist just
past the half-mile pole, pulled to the lead in mid-turn, and then opened
daylight at the quarter-pole.
Only Nonios, who had stayed just a few lengths behind the
leaders, was able to mount any kind of a rally. The lightly raced colt made a
dent in Paynter’s lead with a furlong to go, but then was left adrift when the
winner hit his best stride.
Stealcase, who was left behind at the break when he turned
his head and hit the gate, was best of the rest.
Paynter, who was winning the first stakes race of his
six-race career, earned a prize of $600,000 for his Haskell victory, bringing
his career total to $952,224 on a record of three wins and two seconds in six
Baffert, who won a record fifth Haskell last year with Coil
after Lookin At Lucky’s 2010 win, became the first trainer in Monmouth history
to train three straight winners. He had won the race with Point Given in 2001,
War Emblem in 2002, and Roman Ruler in 2005.