Stella Perdomo’s Grade 2 Sky Classic Stakes victor Forte Dei Marmi, Team Block’s two-time 2012 graded stakes winner Ioya Bigtime, Casa Farms I, LLC’s 2010 Grade 1 Jamaica Handicap hero Prince Will I Am, and Walsh Racing, LLC’s Grade 1-placed Center Divider headline a contentious renewal of the Grade 2 W. L. McKnight Handicap to be run over 12 furlongs of Calder Casino & Race Course turf on Saturday.
Trained by Roger Attfield, who won the 2011 running of the McKnight Handicap with Musketier, Forte Dei Marmi exits a third-place effort in the $1.5 million Grade 1 Canadian International where he was one length shy of claiming the top prize. Prior to that performance, the 6-year-old son of Selkirk finished a close third in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer and was a three-quarter length winner of the Grade 2 Sky Classic.
Assigned post five for the McKnight Handicap, Forte Dei Marmi will team with jockey Gabriel Saez for the first time in Saturday’s turf test.
Conditioned by Chris Block and bred in Illinois by his owner, Ioya Bigtime has enjoyed a highly successful second-half of the 2012 season, winning the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes Stakes at Arlington Park in mid-July before returning two months later to take the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs.
Ioya Bigtime has drawn post one for the McKnight Handicap and will be ridden by Jeffrey Sanchez, who has been aboard the son of Dynaformer in each start of his last six starts and has overseen the 5-year-old’s recent coming out.
A Grade 1 winner that invaded Calder to win the 2010 off-the-turf edition of the McKnight Handicap, Prince Will I Am returns to south Florida during what appears to be leaner times for the son of Victory Gallop, having competed just twice since June 2011. In his return trip to the races, the Michelle Nihei trainee finished sixth in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga on Sept. 1 and has since returned with a ninth in the Canadian International.
Starting from post nine in the McKnight Handicap, Prince Will I Am will be ridden by Fernando Jara.
Drawn to the inside of Prince Will I Am in post eight is Center Divider, a son of Giant’s Causeway that has earned over $339,000 during his career yet is still seeking his first stakes win. Previously trained by Chad Brown, but now in the hands of conditioner Brendan Walsh, the 5-year-old crossed the wire second in the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes at Saratoga in mid-July and was fourth, beaten less than three lengths, in the 2011 running of the McKnight Handicap.
Center Divider exits a seventh-place effort in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer and will be ridden on Saturday by leading local rider Luis Saez.
Other entrants of note in the McKnight Handicap include Signal Hill Farms’ Mucho Mas Macho, winner of the $55,000 Needles Stakes at Calder in September; West Point Thoroughbreds’ Twilight Eclipse, a lightly-raced gelding that exits a one-length defeat in the $85,000 Temperence Hill Stakes at Belmont; and Joseph Allen’s Vertiformer, an allowance winner at Arlington Park this year that contested that track’s Grade 3 Arlington Handicap and Grade 1 Arlington Million.
Completing the field for the race is No Palla Stables’ Manchurian High, Rose Family Stable’s Decaf Again, and Shivananda Racing’s Ducduc.
The W. L. McKnight Handicap is not the lone graded stake to be held at Calder on Saturday as the Miami Gardens track will also present the Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper Handicap, a nine-furlong main track test that features Bruce Hollander and Cary Shapoff’s highly-talented 3-year-old Csaba, last seen winning the $75,000 Tropical Park Derby by 14 lengths.
Trained by Phil Gleaves, Csaba has visited the winner’s circle three times at Calder in 2012, winning by those races by a combined 28 lengths, adding an 8 ¼-length triumph in the $55,000 El Kaiser Stakes to his runaway Tropical Park Derby score. The son of Kitten’s Joy was also second, beaten a nose, in the Grade 2 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga before finishing seventh in the $1 million Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby.
Csaba has drawn post three for the Fred Hooper and will be ridden by Luis Saez.
The main threat to Csaba’s continued Calder dominance is likely to come from Shivananda Racing’s Ducduc, winner of the $55,000 Our Dear Peg Stakes on Sept. 8 before returning to finish second, beaten less than a length, in the Grade 3 Spend A Buck Handicap.
Trained by Shivananda Parbhoo, Ducduc, who was cross-entered in the McKnight Handicap, will start from post four in the Fred Hooper and is to be ridden by Orlando Bocachica.
Completing the field for the race is Rose Family Stable’s Decaf Again, Lakshmi Rattan’s Fair Whit, Elena Arocha’s He’s Spectacular, and Sandra J. Brown’s Two Is to Many.
First race post time at Calder on Saturday is 12:30 p.m. The W. L. McKnight Handicap will go as the ninth race of the day at approximately 3:57 p.m. with the Fred W. Hooper scheduled as race 11 at 4:49 p.m.