It almost didn’t matter if Paynter won or lost today. The fact that this marvelous three-year-old of 2012 was alive, let alone back and working well for his return to the races, was enough for his millions of fans who suffered daily through his life and death struggle last year. A win would simply be icing on the cake. This afternoon at Betfair Hollywood Park, Paynter did more than ice the cake, he burst out of it like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Afire from his inside post position under Rafael Bejarano, the four-year-old son of Awesome Again sped through fast fractions, as the stakes winning Majestic City kept close contact. By the time the field was midway through the far turn, it became apparent that Paynter was not only going to win this $62,000 allowance race, but he was going to do in the same style that we became accustomed to during his first six lifetime races.
Those six races seem like such a long time ago now. There has been so much water under the bridge for the Zayat Stables runner. We all know the story. Paynter became seriously ill soon after the biggest win of his career last July, he needed to have surgery to remove an abscessed area of his colon. After that, the dreaded disease of laminitis struck. Chances of survival, frankly, were slim. This horse did not know that he was a long shot to live, though. Owner, Ahmed Zayat did not give up on him, and Paynter, most assuredly, did not give up.
The heartbreaking story turned around, and then kept getting better. Paynter beat everything that was put up against him. He survived, and near the end of the calendar year he returned to his trainer’s barn. Demonstrating the massive support he had from his fans, Paynter was named the winner of the 2012 Secretariat Vox Populi Award.
Next came a return to the track, and a series of solid workouts. And finally today, the horse who had little chance to live, came full circle with an impressive 4 1/2 length win in his first race in nearly a year.
Trainer, Bob Baffert said the connections of the great survivor would simply bask in the emotions of the win before deciding what’s next for Paynter. As well they should. Saying they have a special individual in Paynter is, of course, an understatement. Paynter is truly one in a million.
It really did not matter if he won or lost today, but just as he exceeded everyone’s expectations in his battle for survival last year, Paynter did much more than was expected. Paynter is back, looking very much like the horse who came a jump or two short from winning the Belmont Stakes, before dominating the Grade 1 Haskell. Oh yes, believe it or not, Paynter is most definitely back.