Prince Will I Am isn’t fussy horse. He can run with the best of them on dirt or turf.
In Saturday’s $150,000 Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2), though, he demonstrated that he’s clearly at his best on turf.
Making his first start on turf since becoming a Grade 1-stakes winner in Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park last fall, Prince Will I Am ($8) closed with a rush to capture the 1-3/8-mile turf stakes by three-quarters of a length.
“We began the season with ambitious plans for him to run in the biggest races (on dirt), but we decided to concentrate on distance races on turf. So we decided to start here,” trainer Michelle Nihei said. “It’s great to have a horse with his versatility, and I love the way he’s matured.”
In his most recent race, the 3-1 favorite had captured the McKnight Handicap (G2), which was taken off turf and run over a sloppy Calder main track on Dec. 18. Prior to that handy victory, the son of Victory Gallop finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon on Churchill Downs’ main track, only to be disqualified and placed 10th for interference.
His Mac Diarmida journey was considerably less eventful. The 4-year-old ridgling saved ground in sixth as Gabriel’s Hill, a 34-1 longshot ridden by Alan Garcia, set fractions of :25, :49 3/5, 1:14 2/5 for the first six furlongs. As the 12-horse field was leaving the turn into the homestretch, jockey John Velazquez swung Prince Will I Am to the outside. The Kentucky-bred, his legs fresh from a stress-free journey, rapidly accelerated and surged to the finish line.
“It worked out perfectly. We held our position into the first turn and I was right where I wanted to be at the half-mile pole. Turning for home I asked him and he responded,” said Velazquez, who, one race earlier, rode Awesome Maria to victory in the Sabin Stakes. “These are the days you look forward to when the horses respond for you. You have to love it when you have the horses who run like that.”
Rahy’s Attorney also enjoyed a ground-saving trip while closely stalking Gabriel’s Hill under Edgar Prado, slipping through on the inside to finish second. Musketier closed from far back to finish third under Alex Solis, another half-length behind.
Prince Will I Am, who ran 1-3/8 miles in 2:13, earned $90,000 for Casa Farms I with his third victory in four turf starts, his only loss being a third-place finish at Saratoga in his grass debut last summer.
“I began to think he was special after he finished third in the Saratoga allowance on turf with so much trouble in the race,” Nihei said. “I think you’ll see him next right back here in the Pan American (G3) (Mar. 26).”
Awesome Maria Rolls to Victory in Sabin
In the co-featured $100,000 Sabin Stakes (G3), Awesome Maria was spectacular, actually, during a dominating 4-3/4-length victory.
Making her first start since finishing second in the Gazelle (G1) at Belmont on Nov. 7, the striking gray 4-year-old filly was always in control of the one-mile stakes for fillies and mares. After an alert start, Awesome Maria pressed Catch a Thief from the outside as they showed the way in the seven-horse field along the backstretch and on the far turn. When challenged by 8-5 favorite Amen Hallelujah to the outside leaving the turn into the homestretch, Velazquez asked Awesome Maria for some run, and the daughter of Maria’s Mon responded by drawing away to victory with fluid and powerful strides.
“It worked out perfect. She broke good. She was nice and relaxed. I asked her in the stretch and she responded,” said Velazquez of the 2-1 second betting choice. “Very impressive today.”
Awesome Maria ran the mile in 1:36 1/5 while registering her fourth victory in 10 starts for the E. Paul Robsham Stables and trainer Todd Pletcher. Amen Hallelujah, ridden by Javier Castellano, finished second, 5-1/4 lengths clear of Catch a Thief, who assisted with fractions of and jockey Carlos Marquez Jr.
“The race developed just the way I thought it would and she was able to sit just off the pace,” Pletcher said. “She trained like she was going to run a big one off the layoff. She trained good at Saratoga last summer and then at Belmont, but hit another level since we got into Palm Meadows.”
Castellano offered no excuses for Amen Hallelujah.
“We had an absolutely perfect trip. The race set up exactly the way we thought it would. I was able to sit right off the speed,” he said. “I was right outside the winner at the quarter pole and she just kicked away. The winner was much the best today – unfortunately for us.”
Pletcher, who expects Awesome Maria to successfully stretch out around two turns, said the 1-1/8-mile Rampart Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park on April 2 will be considered for her next start.