11/22/2012 2:13PM

Calder: Forte Dei Marmi has his work cut out in McKnight

Michael Burns
Forte Dei Marmi will be spotting his rivals three to 12 pounds as the 122-pound highweight in the McKnight.

Forte Dei Marmi figures to start as a solid favorite Saturday in the Grade 2, $150,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap at Calder, but he still has obstacles to overcome in the 1 1/2-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up.

Forte Dei Marmi will be spotting his rivals three to 12 pounds as the 122-pound highweight. He also is still looking for his first win at the distance, and there is question as to whether he will get a favorable pace setup, as Ioya Bigtime has a chance to steal away. There’s also the presence of Prince Will I Am, the field’s lone Grade 1 winner, who will be making his third start off a layoff.

“They say it’s the magic number,” said Michelle Nihei, who trains Prince Will I Am.

Forte Dei Marmi has had a strong fall for trainer Roger Attfield, led by a win in the Grade 2 Sky Classic at Woodbine in August. He has raced twice since, and finished third in a pair of Grade 1 races at 1 1/2 miles at Woodbine, the Northern Dancer and the Canadian International. He would benefit if Ioya Bigtime and Twilight Eclipse made for an honest pace.

But Ioya Bigtime is not one-dimensional. He won this summer’s Grade 3 Stars and Stripes at Arlington from just off the pace under regular rider Jeffrey Sanchez.

“We’re going to be forwardly placed, but he doesn’t have to be in front,” said trainer Chris Block. “We’ll let Jeffrey make that call off the break, how the race sets up.”

Ioya Bigtime has stepped up since he began racing at 1 1/2 miles on a regular basis in July. He won a second Grade 3 at the distance in September, at Kentucky Downs.

“I believe his form started to sort of reverse in a positive direction when he started going” 1 1/2 miles, said Block. “His Beyers rose, and he stayed consistent. He’s run against some good horses, and will be running against some more Saturday.”

Prince Will I Am became a Grade 1 winner in 2010 in the Jamaica at Belmont. The McKnight will be his third start since June 2011.

“We felt like he really needed time,” said Nihei. “He never had any significant lay-up time, and we felt like it would be beneficial to him to let him all the way down.”

Prince Will I Am has been training like “his old self,” Nihei said, and she looks for a strong race the 2010 McKnight winner. He enters off a ninth in the Canadian International.

“There were a lot of things that happened, but maybe most of all we really didn’t have enough experience over that course,” Nihei said. “It’s a little tricky. And he was stuck in back of a slow pace. There were lots of things going against us. It certainly wasn’t anything that set him back as an individual.”