12/16/2010 2:49PM

Prince Will I Am looks to put DQ behind him in McKnight

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Michelle Nihei will send out Prince Will I Am for the first time since the BC Marathon in Saturday’s W.L. McKnight Handicap.

MIAMI – Trainer Michelle Nihei will never forget the disappointment of Breeders’ Cup Day when she watched Prince Will I Am finish second in the Marathon only to be disqualified and placed 10th for causing interference on the final turn. Nihei will take the first step toward putting that experience behind her when she sends Prince Will I Am out as one of the favorites in Saturday’s $150,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap on the turf at Calder.

The Grade 2, 1 1/2-mile McKnight came up one of the best races of the meet, having drawn three Grade 1 winners including Prince Will I Am. He’ll be joined in the starting gate by two-time McKnight champion Presious Passion, who captured the event in 2007 and 2008, and Telling, winner of both the 2009 and 2010 renewals of Saratoga’s 1 1/2-mile Sword Dancer.

Prince Will I Am picked up his Grade 1 victory four weeks prior to the Breeders’ Cup when rallying to a 1 1/4-length triumph in the nine-furlong Jamaica over the Belmont Park turf course. But it is the Marathon that will likely burn in Nihei’s memory for a long time.

“I don’t know if you ever get over that kind of disappointment,” Nihei said. “We’ve all had to accept what happened and try to focus on the positives, including the fact we’re grateful he came out of the race like a million dollars and the knowledge that we’ve got a really, really nice horse.”

Prince Will I Am developed into one of the most versatile horses in the country under Nihei’s guidance as his 3-year-old campaign progressed and, as a result, he figures to be a force in the handicap division, whether on turf or dirt and at distances ranging from nine to 12 furlongs, in 2011.

“Pedigree wise, it suggests he should get better as he gets older,” said Nihei, a former assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. “We’ve made a few changes as we’ve gone along and seen some real improvement, although I don’t want to attribute too much to any single thing. He just seems to be responding well to everything we’ve done.”

Although he’s coming off a big performance in the Breeders’ Cup, Nihei acknowledges that the McKnight is probably coming up an even tougher spot.

“No question this is a tougher race than the Marathon,” Nihei said. “The race will probably split into Presious Passion and the rest of us, and it probably matters more who is going to lead the second group. That’s how we’re going to approach it at any rate.”

Presious Passion’s bid for a three-peat in the McKnight was foiled last year when he was pushed through suicidal early fractions before ultimately tiring to finish a well-beaten fifth as the 4-5 favorite. The gelded son of Royal Anthem bounced back to capture the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida in his 2010 debut but is winless in four subsequent starts, including a disappointing 16th-place finish in the Dubai Sheema Classic.

Telling has finished off the board in both starts subsequent to successfully defending his title in the Sword Dancer this summer at Saratoga. Like Prince Will I Am, he, too, has not started since the Breeders’ Cup, where he finished sixth in the Turf.

Telling will carry high weight of 122 pounds in the McKnight, one more than Presious Passion. Prince Will I Am gets in at 117 pounds.

The remainder of the very strong McKnight field includes Grade 2 winner Musketier, Grade 3 winner Memorial Maniac, the Grade 1-placed Bold Hawk, the multiple graded stakes-placed Rescue Squad, Black Scorpion, Simmard, and Free Fighter.