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Paynter set to rejoin Baffert

Paynter, shown last week, has received veterinary clearance for take-off (Courtesy of Justin Zayat via Twitter)
Grade 1 Haskell Invitational hero Paynter, who captivated racing fans by beating life-threatening colitis and laminitis, is scheduled to rejoin trainer Bob Baffert and begin training toward a comeback. Owner Ahmed Zayat revealed the news via Twitter on Saturday, exactly one week ahead of Paynter's departure for California.

"With gratitude to the almighty, and thanking all Paynter's fans for their prayers and good wishes," Zayat began the series of tweets, "Paynter is giving us our best Christmas and New Year's gift.

"Paynter has made it very clear to me, my family and his vets and all his caretakers that he is ready to go back to his trainer @Midnightlute (Baffert's Twitter handle) to resume what he loves as a Thoroughbred, which is racing and being around all his friends.

"After getting the green light from all his vets and him passing yesterday's physical examination and ultrasounds that was done at the New Bolton Center with flying colors, it was decided that he is ready to ship to California.

"After searching for all possible flights, we found out that the best direct flight will be on December 29 from Newark airport to LAX.

"My family and I are extremely excited and proud of our warrior. We have made plans to personally travel to CA to be the first to welcome our special colt back to his old home and to make sure that he is settled safely and happily."

On Sunday, Zayat issued another update:

"Paynter doing awesome today," adding that the colt weighed in at 1,092 pounds. "Just super -- all set for Dec. 29 shipping."

Justin Zayat, the owner's son and racing manager, responded to a Twitter inquiry to emphasize that Paynter is healthy and hearty enough to resume training.

"He is READY! We would never send him out there if he wasn't 150 percent," Justin Zayat tweeted.

Paynter was on a rapid development curve during the first half of the season. Tackling the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby right off his sprint maiden win, the Awesome Again colt finished a solid fourth to I'll Have Another. Paynter then shipped to Churchill Downs and checked in second in the Grade 3 Derby Trial, but turned the corner with an allowance romp on Preakness Day at Pimlico.

Paynter will ship Saturday, the same day that the Vox Populi Award will be presented at Santa Anita (Ryan Denver/Equi-Photo)
Making only his fifth career start in the June 9 Belmont Stakes, Paynter nearly went wire to wire, only to be collared in the final strides by Union Rags. Paynter posted his breakout performance next out in the July 29 Haskell at Monmouth, where he dominated by 3 3/4 lengths.

Sadly, Paynter spiked a fever a few days later and had to be transported to an equine clinic in New Jersey. Discharged after more than a week's stay, he soon joined Baffert's string at Saratoga, but came down with colitis and was hospitalized at the Upstate Equine Medical Center in Schuylerville, New York, on August 26.

Paynter's survival hung in the balance, especially after developing the dreaded complication of laminitis. But the colt proved a resilient fighter, and he began to improve under the care of Dr. Laura Javsicas.

Paynter was then discovered to have an abscessed area in his colon, and his team of specialists recommended transfer to New Bolton Center for surgery. Following the October 3 operation, Paynter continued his remarkable recovery. Within two weeks, he was moved to the Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center near Elkton, Maryland, for his rehabilitation.

Zayat kept fans apprised of Paynter's critical illness, and his well wishers responded with an outpouring of support and prayers. So compelling was his story that it garnered a nomination for the "NTRA Moment of the Year," for which fans may vote through January 2.

Fans spoke up when Paynter was not included in the original list of nominees for the Secretariat "Vox Populi" Award. Penny Chenery and the award committee duly added Paynter's name to the ballot. Sunday was the last day to cast a vote.

The Vox Populi Award will be presented at Santa Anita on Saturday -- the same day that Paynter is scheduled to ship.

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