Baffert still a Belmont player with Paynter
Story by: David Grening
While Bob Baffert sent Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister home to California, the Hall of Fame trainer will still have a wild card to play in the June 9 Belmont Stakes with Paynter, who on Sunday worked a solid five furlongs over the Belmont Park training track.
Paynter, a 5 3/4-length allowance winner at Pimlico on Preakness Day, breezed five furlongs in 59.26 seconds, going in company with the Jerome Stakes runner-up Brigand. Paynter, under exercise rider Simon Harris, began his breeze about 1 1/2 lengths behind Brigand, caught him after breezing a quarter-mile in 24.21 seconds and finished about 1 1/2 lengths in front of Brigand while completing his final three furlongs in 35.05 seconds. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.74.
“He’s just a little bit lazy, I was a length or so behind [Brigand], I just had to shake him up to go get him,” Harris said. “Once I did that, he responded right away. Not only did he go get him, he went right by him. I’m really happy with the work.”
Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s assistant, called an audible and moved Paynter’s work from the main track to the training track after a thunderstorm hit Belmont 15 minutes before the main track’s renovation break. The main track was sloppy and sealed, but the training track was harrowed and labeled fast, but was more on the good side following the rain.
“He worked fine,” Barnes said. “Bob said go in a minute and we went a shade under a minute.”
Both Barnes and Harris indicated that Paynter came out of his allowance race at Pimlico in good shape. In fact, Harris was surprised to learn that Paynter ran just eight days ago.
“Plenty of energy,” Harris said.
Said Barnes: “We got a fresh horse that’s for sure.”
Barnes said given the hard campaign Bodemeister had, it wouldn’t have been “the right thing to do to run him back” against I’ll Have Another, who will seek to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner in the Belmont.
“He had three very hard races,” Barnes said. “There are a lot of other races in the summer with the Haskell probably being the main one to look forward to.”
Barnes said the 1 1/2 miles is an unknown for Paynter and the other 11 horses under consideration for the Belmont.
“I don’t think anybody knows whether they can go a mile and a half, do they?” Barnes said.
Due to the forecasted rain, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin moved Alpha’s work up to from 8:45 on the main track to 6:15 a.m. on the training track.
Alpha worked five furlongs in 1:01.93, breaking off from the half-mile pole. He worked in company with the stakes-winning filly Coax Liberty, who ended her work at the wire and was given a four-furlong time of 49.10 seconds.
“We got it in, he worked great,” McLaughlin said.
It was Alpha’s first work since he finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby. McLaughlin noted that Alpha “melted before our eyes” in the paddock at Churchill Downs.
McLaughlin said that he schooled Alpha in the paddock at Belmont on Saturday and he “got a little warm. We’ll do it again.”
Due the sloppy main track, trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal canceled a scheduled workout for Belmont longshot Guyana Star Dweej, who just galloped over the main track after the break.
Dale Romans said that Dullahan was scheduled to leave Churchill Downs around 5 or 6 p.m. Sunday by van and arrive at Belmont around 5 or 6 Monday morning.
Upon his arrival, nine of the 12 horses under consideration for the Belmont Stakes will be on the grounds. Union Rags (Fair Hill), Optimizer (Churchill Downs), and Ravelo’s Boy (Calder) are not here.