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Photo of Paynter winning 2012 Haskell courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire.

By Claire Novak and Jack Shinar

Paynter, who finished second in the 2012 Belmont Stakes and went on to win the Haskell Invitational, will return to the races on Friday for the first time since suffering a severe illness and ensuing surgery.

The 4-year-old son of Awesome Again   will make his first start since last July for trainer Bob Baffert in a seven-furlong allowance event for non-winners of three over the Cushion Track at Betfair Hollywood Park June 14. It will be Paynter's first race over a synthetic track.

Paynter faces seven opponents as the 124-pound co-highweight with Rafael Bejarano aboard. It is the seventh race on the program with a 4 p.m. PDT post time.

"He is as healthy a horse as you want to come into the race," said owner Ahmed Zayat.

Paynter was sidelined from racing after the Haskell when he spiked a temperature at Monmouth Park. The colt was sent to a New Jersey clinic, then at the Upstate Equine Medical Center in New York, and finally at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center of Veterinary Medicine to remove an abscessed area of his colon Oct. 3. He recovered in Maryland at Fair Hill Equine Therapy and returned to Baffert's West Coast string Dec. 29.

"He hasn't run since the Haskell, it's a start. We have been trying to find the right spot," Zayat said of the 2012 winner of the Secretariat Vox Populi Award. "We are very excited but I can't tell you how nervous I am. I'm very proud of him, I'm so happy we got him a race."

Paynter has been in regular training with Baffert since April. He has three wins and two seconds from six lifetime starts with earnings of $952,224.

"I would never have dreamed when we went to the clinic that we'd ever see him in a race again," Baffert said. "He's just an amazing animal, probably the toughest horse I've ever been around in my life. It's incredible what he's been through and what he looks like now."

A $325,000 purchase at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale, Paynter was bred in Kentucky by Diamond A Racing Corp. He is out of the Cee's Tizzy mare Tizso.

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