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.
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 two positions.
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 Rafael Bejarano.”
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 through.
“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 starts.
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.