Disqualified from his runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon (gr. III) last out, Prince Will I Am helped ease some of his connections’ disappointment with a decisive victory in the off-the-turf W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) Dec. 18 at rainy Calder Casino & Race Course.
The only 3-year-old in a scratched-filled field of five running 1 1/2 miles over the sloppy main track, Prince Will I Am tracked the leaders for a mile, took over approaching the final turn, and edged away in the stretch to win by 2 1/2 lengths as the even-money choice. The son of Victory Gallop was ridden by Javier Castellano, who was also aboard in the BC Marathon last month when Prince Will I Am was dropped to 10th place after the jockey initiated interference near the five-sixteenths pole that later led to a six-day suspension.
Trainer Michelle Nihei, who expressed extreme disappointment after the BC Marathon disqualification, was feeling better after the McKnight, which was Prince Will I Am’s third win in his last four starts. The chestnut ridgling is owned by Casa Farms I.
“I’ll take it but we want him to have a chance to run against the best horses in the best races," Nihei said. "We knew he’d handle the surface and the distance. Some of the goals next year will be the Arlington Million (gr. IT) and Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT). As for Gulfstream, the two races we’ll be looking at are the Donn Handicap (gr. I) or the Gulfstream Turf (gr. IT).”
Free Fighter, with Carlos Marquez Jr. in the irons, came from off the pace to get second in the $150,000 event, 3 1/2 lengths better than third-place Memorial Maniac, who also rallied from the back under Victor Lebron. Presious Passion, winner of the McKnight in 2007 and 2008, set the pace by running splits of :25.72, :50.62, 1:16.71, and 1:43.25 but tired to finish fourth. Simmard was last.
The final time was 2:38.40.
“The most important thing today was to be patient," Castellano said. "Michelle gave me the green light and told me, ‘Javier, you know the horse, so just put him where you think he’s comfortable in the race and move when you think he’s ready.’ He did everything I needed him to do, like I said, it was just a matter of being patient.”
Prince Will I Am broke his maiden on dirt in his debut in November 2009, but has been more effective since being switched to turf. He won the grade I Jamaica Handicap Oct. 9 at Belmont in his third start on turf. Overall, he improved to 4-2-1 from 12 starts and earnings of $296,090.
Bred in Kentucky by Roxanne Martin Stable and Anzac, Prince Will I Am is out of the Dynaformer mare Dyna’s Dynamo.
The winner paid $4, $2.60, and $2.10. The exacta (4-10) returned $11.20 and the trifecta (4-10-3) was worth $57.