Paynter is back, but Cross Traffic is not.
The 2012 Haskell winner, who nearly died last year, will make his third start of 2013 in Saturday’s Grade I Woodward at Saratoga Race Course.
Whitney winner Cross Traffic, however, will skip the Woodward and train up to the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, giving him one more start before the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Whitney runner-up Successful Dan is the 5-2 morning-line favorite, followed by Paynter, who will run at Saratoga for the first time in his career.
He nearly won the Belmont Stakes last year before being caught by Union Rags, then won the Haskell by 33⁄4 lengths and looked like he would be formidable the rest of the season.
Owned by Zayat Stables, Paynter withstood a series of physical problems that nearly cost him his life.
It started with a fever shortly after the Haskell, followed by colitis and laminitis in three of his feet.
His weight dropped under 1,000 pounds, and Paynter didn’t turn things around until a section of his intestines was removed during an operation at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center.
He finally returned to Bob Baffert’s barn on Dec. 29.
“It’s an incredible story,” Baffert told the New York Racing Association. “It was so emotional, what he went through for two months. Now that he’s back, I really want him to take on the big guys, because he’s a big guy himself.”
The seven-horse Woodward field, from the rail out, will be Ron the Greek, Successful Dan, Fort Larned, Flat Out, Paynter, Mucho Macho Man and Alpha.
Paynter got back to the track on June 14 and easily won an allowance at Hollywood Park, then was second to Kettle Corn in the Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 27.
“Once we got him at New Bolton, he was 100 percent after the intestine was removed,” Baffert said. “We went real easy on him when he first came in. Some horses, when they come in off a layoff, pick it up right away. The first 60 days with him were critical.
“Then, all of a sudden, he was, ‘I’m ready to go full contact.’ ”
Trainer Todd Pletcher said that the lightly raced 4-year-old Cross Traffic would be better served to run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup because the distance matches that of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a mile and a quarter, whereas the Woodward is a mile and an eighth.
Before the Whitney, Cross Traffic had never raced longer than a mile.
“It was a tough decision, but we’re trying to figure out the best way to get to the Breeders’ Cup,” Pletcher said. “We felt like bypassing the Woodward and getting a mile-and-a-quarter race five weeks out from the Breeders’ Cup Classic puts us in better position than running a mile and an eighth nine weeks out, then possibly needing to run back in the Jockey Club, as well. It was a tough call, but that’s kind of what it came down to.”
Successful Dan had a short work on the track early Wednesday, although there wasn’t much visual evidence of it since it took place in the fog.
He was credited with a three-furlong breeze in 37.15.
The Woodward card also features the Grade I Forego at seven furlongs and the Grade II Bernard Baruch on the turf.
The Forego field, from the rail out, will be Javerre, Jackson Bend, Sage Valley, Lea, Saratoga Snacks, Fast Bullet, Justin Phillip, Strapping Groom and Golddigger’s Boy.
Entered in the Bernard Baruch, in post-position order from the rail, are Paris Vegas, So Long George, Turallure, Willyconker, Tetradrachm, Za Approval and Silver Max.