ELMONT, N.Y. -- When trainer Michelle Nihei saw the first half of Saturday's Grade 1 Jamaica Breeders' Cup Handicap go in 50.48 seconds, and her 3-year-old Prince Will I Am was eight lengths back, she wasn't loving her chances to win.
"That just terrified me," Nihei said. "I smelled death at that point."
But Prince Will I Am rose from the ashes with an explosive late kick under Jose Lezcano that carried him from last to first in the Jamaica, giving both horse and trainer their first Grade 1 victory. Prince Will I Am won by 1 1/4 lengths over 29-1 shot Citrus Kid, who was part of the pedestrian early pace. It was one-half length back to Beau Choix in third.
The victory was the first graded stakes of any kind for Nihei, who went out on her own in 2007 after working several years as an assistant and exercise rider for Todd Pletcher. It was in March 2008 that Nihei suffered a badly dislocated knee in a riding accident that had doctors considering amputating her leg. During that time, Nihei said she would drag the then-weanling Prince Will I Am in out of a field.
Three years later, both trainer and Prince Will I Am are healthy and doing just fine. Nihei has been getting on Prince Will I Am daily and was confident her horse would run a big race in the Jamaica. But she knew that her horse likes to come from well off the pace and wasn't sure if the pace would be swift enough to set it up for him.
"I did tell Jose I thought he needed to be put into the race a little bit through the backside," Nihei said. "I said `Jose, you know that turf course better than I do, you choose, I'm just telling you what I think has to happen for him.' "
Lezcano said he was confident in his position down the backside.
"Down the backside I knew the pace was easy but I wasn't too far back," Lezcano said. "When I asked him I wanted to be clear and he gave me a big kick."
Nihei said that the owners, Clint and Susan Atkins, would consider supplementing Prince Will I Am to either the Breeders' Cup Turf on Nov. 6 or the $500,000 Breeders' Cup Marathon at 1 3/4 miles on the dirt the day before.
"He doesn't seem to mind surface changes," Nihei said.