● Prince Will I Am, a multiple graded stakes winner on the turf, is hoping to be crowned victorious in Sunday’s Grade 1, $1.5-million Pattison Canadian International.
● A five-time winner through 17 career starts, Prince Will I Am proved he was no pauper when taking the Grade 1 Jamaica Handicap at Belmont on October, 9, 2010 from out of the clouds. The victory, his first stakes score, propelled the five-year-old Victory Gallop (a Canadian Hall of Fame inductee in 2010) chestnut to a string of good results, including a second-place effort in the G3 Breeders’ Cup Marathon that November and wins in the G2 W. L McKnight at Calder and G2 Mac Diarmida (ahead of Woodbine regulars Rahy’s Attorney and Musketier) at Gulfstream in early 2011.
● “Between the Mac Diarmida and the Jamaica he showed his predisposition for being a good turf horse,” said trainer Michelle Nihei (NEE-hay). “Both days were different in the way he brought himself into the race. In the Jamaica, it was his standard, way back, coming from out of it at the end, closing in :10 and change. In the Mac Diarmida, he put himself in the race a little bit better sitting fourth or fifth and took a bit of a run at them at the top of the lane. It's a little bit shorter stretch (at Gulfstream, compared to Belmont), so he had to get to that point a little bit earlier in the race.”
● Prince Will I Am’s versatility is a huge asset for the well-travelled horse when experimenting on new track configurations. “He's a very savvy, smart horse,” said Nihei. “He really gets it. He understands what the game is and where the wire is. When he doesn't run well you know there's something wrong, and when he does run well it's because he understands how to run.”
● Nihei is convinced that Woodbine’s expansive E.P. Taylor Turf Course stretch run will be to Prince Will I Am’s liking. “He's going to love that (long stretch),” said Nihei. “There's nothing he loves more than being able to open his shoulders up a little bit and really get a big breath of air.”
● A strong fifth-place run, defeated less than four lengths, in the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill Downs in May of 2011, was followed a month later by an uncharacteristic last of nine finish in the Grade 1 Manhattan at Belmont. Nihei promptly put the horse away for a spell.
● “We decided that he's such a good horse, and he always tries, that there was something compelling,” offered Nihei. “He had been consistently training since early in his two-year-old year and never had a break, so we thought we'd pull the plug for awhile and let him come back on his own.”
● Following an extended layoff, Prince Will I Am returned to racing at Saratoga on September 1 in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch. Despite finishing last of six, the hard-trying chestnut was defeated only five lengths in the 1 1/16-mile race the conditioner admits was far too short for him.
● “From a timing perspective, nothing came up for him,” explained Nihei. “This was a race that was completely the wrong distance and it was a Grade 2. It only fit one parameter, which is he was eligible for it. We just ran out of choices. Timing was, we needed to be ready to make a decision between the Joe Hirsch (at Belmont) and the Canadian International and that was ultimately why he had to run there.”
● Despite less than desirable circumstances, Nihei was happy with his performance. “It was a distance that didn't suit him and they went 1:40 (1:40.1) and he wasn't back by much,” she said. “We never got a chance to make one run like he likes to make. We were about a second off the track record, so it was a fast mile and a sixteenth.”
● Prince Will I Am, who has been steered to victory by Freddie Lenclud, Javier Castellano, Jose Lezcano and John Velazquez, will get top rider, Ramon Dominguez, for the second straight time.
● If Prince Will I Am returns to form on Sunday, Nihei will have to choose between a pair of Breeders’ Cup races - the Turf or the Marathon. “The turf is his specialty and we'd hope to be in the mile and a half turf race,” said Nihei. “But, he's also a brilliant marathoner and given the right circumstances he could jump up and be horse for the course. We're taking it one race at a time and right now our main goal is taking him to Woodbine and running well.”
Owner – Casa Farms I, LLC
Casa Farms I is owned and operated by Susan and Clinton Atkins of Naples, Florida.
Susan, who has enjoyed being around horses since childhood, became involved in racing in 2003 when she and her husband purchased four horses and turned them over to trainer D. Wayne Lukas. In 2004, the Atkins purchased Mare Haven, a Lexington, Ky., farm which originally dates back to 1775.
Susan headed a renovation project, and the property was re-named Casa Farms I, LLC (CASA represents Clinton Atkins’ and Susan Atkins’ initials). Mare Haven was part of the original Idle Hour Stock Farm of the legendary Col. E.R. Bradley, breeder of Kentucky Derby winners Behave Yourself, Bubbling Over, Burgoo King and Brokers Tip.
Their first top flight horse was Baghdaria, a private purchase at three, who earned more than $500,000 in her career. Baghdaria would take Atkins to the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, now known as the Ladies’ Classic, where they finished seventh. The Royal Academy mare also won the Iowa Oaks (G3), Indiana Breeders’ Cup Oaks (G3) and Silverbulletday Stakes (G3).
Atkins posted her first Grade 1 victory when Prince Will I Am captured the Jamaica Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Belmont Park. Prince Will I Am was purchased as a weanling from Atkins next door neighbor in Lexington, Roxanne Martin of Highcroft Farm to be a companion for one of her weanlings, Talesman.
Trainer – Michelle Nihei (www.michelleniheiracingstable.com)
Michelle Nihei, born March 27, 1971 in Calgary, adds a touch of Canadian flair to the International. The former Todd Pletcher assistant, who went out on her own in 2007, has saddled a number of runners at Woodbine for Pletcher, including Flamenco (1st in the 2004 edition of the Victoria Stakes) and Ocean Drive (2nd in the 2004 edition of the Nassau Stakes).
Prince Will I Am will mark the first runner officially saddled by Nihei in her native country.
Nihei, who professed a love of horses from an early age, graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a Master's degree and later received a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Kentucky. After receiving her Ph.D, Nihei spent nearly five years working at Johns Hopkins, becoming part of the junior faculty.
However, she eventually followed her heart back to horses and Kentucky.
In 2001, she travelled to Keeneland, looking for work as an exercise rider and caught on galloping horses for Andrew McKeever and Dallas Stewart. In 2003, she became an assistant trainer and exercise rider for Christopher Speckert before joining Todd Pletcher.
Nihei oversaw Pletcher strings in Kentucky, Florida and Delaware working with top runners that included Ashado, Wait a While, Flower Alley, Balto Star, Lawyer Ron, Scat Daddy and English Channel.
She recorded her first win with Heartaches at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 6, 2008 and her first stakes win with Sousaphone in the Vivacious Handicap at River Downs in 2008. Prince Will I Am provided Nihei with her first graded stakes in 2010 with a last-to-first rally to capture the G1 Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park.
Jockey - Ramon Dominguez (www.ramondominguez.com)
Born in Caracas, Venezuela on November 24, 1976, Ramon Dominguez has made quite a splash in North America since arriving in 1996. In 2001 and 2003, he led the continent in wins, with 431 and 453 victories, respectively, while competing mainly on the Maryland and Delaware circuits. In 2001, Dominguez also finished 10th on the money list with $10.5 million and was an Eclipse Award finalist.
In 2004, he rode Tapit to a win in the Wood Memorial then capped the year with a victory aboard Better Talk Now in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Overall, he finished with 383 wins, second behind Rafael Bejarano and was ninth on the money list with $11.5 million. In 2005, he was 10th overall, with $10.7 million and 312 wins, highlighted by two more Grade 1 stakes scores aboard Better Talk Now. In 2006, Dominguez’s mounts earned $14.4 million, ranking him fifth in North America, while his 385 wins placed him second.
However, the last five years have been his best and he’s been subsequently recognized for his success. In 2007, he won 318 races and $15.5 million. In 2008, it was 310 winners and $14.5 million. In 2009, he won 391 races and $18.3 million, before a 2010 season which saw him win a leading 369 races and $16.9 million.
Last year, he won 348 races and a career best $20.2 million in purses, tops on the continent and rode Horse of the Year Havre de Grace. He also earned a second consecutive Eclipse Award as the continent’s Outstanding Jockey. He also became the leading rider in New York for the past three years, while competing at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga.
Dominguez began his riding career in 1995 at La Rinconada Racecourse in Caracas and scored his first win aboard Lady Mercy. He then moved to Florida where he scored his first U.S. win in March of 1996 aboard Solo Moondance at Hialeah Park. He continued to campaign in Florida and Delaware before making Maryland his headquarters in late 1999, where he won various riding titles at Laurel, Pimlico and Delaware.
This year, Dominguez has 22 graded stakes wins, including six Grade 1’s, among his continent-leading 271 victories. Wins in the Arlington Million aboard Little Mike and the Travers aboard Alpha are notable. He also has continent-leading earnings of $19.3 million on the year as well.
He is making his International debut, but does have a Woodbine stakes tally this year, guiding Musketier to a win the Grade 3 Singpsiel Stakes.