By Lucas Marquardt
When WinStar Farm's Paynter got off to a slow start with his first crop in 2017, some reasoned his offspring would just need time to develop. That made sense. He himself didn't break his maiden until a first-out win in February of his 3-year-old year, and progeny by his sire, Awesome Again, typically need time to come around. Others thought the writing was simply on the wall.
Now, after a strong 2018 and a fast start to the new year, it's looking more and more like the first group got it right. Paynter was #8 on TDN's first-crop sire list by earnings, but the #2 second-crop sire in 2018. He's the #2 cumulative third-crop sire, as well, with six stakes winners and 16 stakes horses from 140 starters.
Gulfstream's Championship Meet has already been fruitful for Paynter. Last weekend, in maiden special company, the 3-year-old Mega Fortune took her turf bow at huge 41-1 odds. It was the third career start for the filly, who is campaigned by the same Zayat Stables that sent out Paynter to win the GI Haskell Invitational. Then on Thursday, another 3-year-old filly, A Bit of Both, aired at 3-5 odds in a state-bred first-level allowance.
Updates could come as soon as Saturday. Among those making further waves on her sire's behalf is Needs Supervision, co-second choice in the GII Rachel Alexandra S. at Fair Grounds. A winner of three straight, including a first stakes win in the local Silverbulletday S. Jan. 19, Needs Supervision would stamp herself as an early GI Kentucky Oaks favorite with a big effort.
“There's going to be some horses that she didn't see in her last race,” said WinStar's Director of Bloodstock Services Sean Tugel. “But it's been great to see her go through her paces and, when stepped up and asked to show her talents, perform how her connections thought she would.”
For Tugel, Paynter's career arc, short as it is, has been no surprise.
“It's a sire line that typically progresses as they get a little older, which Paynter did himself,” said Tugel. “As he got more horses on the track, you've gotten to see more and more of his offspring reaching their potential and show that they have stakes ability. [He's] passed on that will to run, as well as that soundness that he brings to the table.”
Paynter comes by those attributes honestly. In addition to being a star performer for the Bob Baffert barn, he was produced by a full-sister to Tiznow.
“Being from that female family, he's been a great option for many people because he opens himself up to the vast majority of mares here in America,” said Tugel. “He's an outcross for the A.P. Indy, Mr. Prospector and Storm Cat lines.”
Encouragingly, Paynter's juveniles of 2018 were quicker to come around than their first-crop counterparts. They were led by Knicks Go, who on Tuesday was crowned Maryland-bred Horse of the Year, that off a season that included an upset win in the GI Claiborne Breeders' Futurity and a form-backing second in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Knicks Go disappointed when fifth in the GIII Sam F. Davis last weekend, but a strong rebound could still punch his ticket to the G2 UAE Derby, say connections.
“Paynter had 21 2-year-old winners last year, and he's just slowly and steadily climbing the ranks as his progeny get older,” said Tugel.
Tugel tabbed the 3-year-old filly Carrizo as one to watch in 2019. That one aired by 5 1/2 lengths on debut for Steve Asmussen last fall at Churchill. “Then she just got nailed at the wire in a Churchill allowance by a filly who is graded stakes quality,” Tugel said, referencing the two-for-three Unholy Alliance (First Samurai).
“The unraced Reedley is getting very close for Bob Baffert,” he added. “He has been breezing well against stakes horses and could be another exciting one to watch.”
Reedley was a $200,000 Keeneland September grad in 2017, Paynter's top-priced yearling that year.
To be sure, Paynter's sales' star slipped in 2018–his yearlings averaged just $25,628–but Tugel is encouraged by the support he's continued to receive in the auction ring from buyers he respects. He notes that pinhookers like Steve Venosa, bloodstock agents like David Ingordo and Mike Ryan, and end-users like West Point Thoroughbreds' Terry Finley have supported the stallion.
“They strongly go after Paynters and have supported him very well at the sales because he's horse that gives you a good race horse with talent, that can take you to the big races,” said Tugel.
Paynter heads into the 2019 breeding season at $12,500–half his original fee of $25,000–and with considerable momentum.
“Paynter's got a really nice portfolio of younger and older horses, and he was extremely well supported by the breeders throughout his first three or four years,” said Tugel. “So the numbers are going to be there, and he's a horse that, when his offspring get out there and populate all the different categories, is going to make a lot of noise.”