Prince Will I Am closed from last on the turn for home to win the $250,000 Jamaica Handicap (gr. IT) (VIDEO) going away over the Belmont Park inner turf course Oct. 9 for his first stakes win by 1 1/4 lengths.
Casa Farms One's Prince Will I Am has been a different horse since trainer Michelle Nihei put the 3-year-old ridgling son of Victory Gallop on the grass this summer at Saratoga. In three starts since, Prince Will I Am, who went off at 9-1 odds in the Jamaica, has two wins and a third.
Jose Lezcano rode the winning chestnut for the first time. Last in the field of 11 for most of the journey over "good" turf, Prince Will I Am swung to the outside for the stretch run and swept past the field. He collared pacesetter Citrus KId, who threatened to steal the Jamaica at odds of 29-1, close to home and quickly drew off to a 1 1/2-length win in a time of 1:50.07 for the 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-olds.
Citrus Kid held off Beau Choice for second by a half-length.
A first-out maiden winner last November, Prince Will I Am was on the Triple Crown trail briefly this spring before off-the-board finishes in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) and Lexington Stakes (gr. II). He raced twice on the Churchill Downs main track after that, but was given a two-month freshening after finishing fifth in the Northern Dancer Stakes (gr. II) in June.
Nihei, a former exercise rider for Todd Pletcher, then transferred Prince Will I Am to the turf at Saratoga and he responded with a couple of powerful late-running efforts, including a victory in an optional claiming allowance tilt at 11 furlongs on the inner turf Sept. 3.
Citrus Kid, leaving the rail for Jose Espinoza, led Two Notch Road through crawling fractions of :24.93, :50.40 and 1:14.86. Two Notch Road drew even on the far turn, but Citrus Kid fought back at the rail and opened up by three lengths mid-stretch as Center Divider and Beau Choice picked up the chase.
But Prince Will I Am, who lost some ground on the backstretch and was still last on the turn, angled to the extreme outside for the drive and had clear aim at the leaders. He swept past impressively inside the sixteenth pole after charging six wide.
“On the backside, I knew the pace was slow, but I wasn’t that far back," Lezcano said. "Then, when I was clear, he really responded.
Favored Krypton, carrying co-top weight of 118 pounds, tired after a stalking the pace while racing wide on both turns and finished ninth.
“I think that the soft going had something to do with his performance today," jockey Edgar Prado said of the 2-1 choice Krypton.
Prince Will I Am won for the third time in 10 starts and increased his earnings to $203,090 with the winner's share of $120,000.
Nehei said the Emirates' Airline Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at 12 furlongs on the Churchill Downs' turf Nov. 6 is a possibility for Prince Will I Am, although he is not nominated. She said the Jamaica was the biggest win of her training career.
“(The lack of pace) was just terrifying, but it was just one of those days where I woke up this morning – after two hours of sleep – and everything was going his way," Nihei said. "He’s not taken one step wrong. If he was going to run a huge race, it was today."
Roxanne Martin Stable and Anzac bred the winner, who is out of the Dynaformer mare Dyna's Dynamo.
Sent off as the seventh choice, Prince Will I Am carried 114 pounds and paid $21.60, $10.60 and $6.30 and topped a $400.50 exacta. Citrus Kid, unplaced in a pair of graded stakes on the Saratoga turf this summer, returned $21 and $10.40. Beau Choix, coming off a second-place effort in the Restoration Stakes at Monmouth Park for trainer Barclay Tagg Aug. 28, was $4.10 to show.
It was 1 3/4 lengths to Center Divider in fourth. He was followed by Teaks North, Fantastico Roberto, Two Notch Road, Turf Melody, Krypton, Admiral Alex and Lethal Combination.