Live Oak Plantation’s homebred World Approval earned just that by demolishing an international cast in Saturday’s $657,312 Woodbine Mile (G1). Arguing the pace throughout in a bunched-up field, the 2-1 favorite left his rivals standing in the stretch to stamp his ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Del Mar.
Few might have envisioned this development a year ago, when World Approval missed by a half-length in the 1 1/2-mile Northern Dancer Turf (G1). That was the supporting feature for the Woodbine Mile won by his champion stablemate Tepin, and 12 months on, he would inherit her mantle.
The Mark Casse trainee had first made his splash as a turf router, capturing the 2015 Saranac (G3) and American Derby (G3) and landing his first Grade 1 trophy in the 1 3/8-mile United Nations (G1) last summer. World Approval resumed this campaign by outclassing state-breds in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Cup Turf Classic April 2 at Tampa. He was equally decisive on the slight cutback to 1 1/16 miles in the Dixie (G2), although a “good” course has historically suited him.
After a fifth in the Manhattan (G1) over 1 1/4 miles, Casse shortened him up to a flat mile in the Fourstardave (G1) at Saratoga, and he responded with a handsome victory over Juddmonte import Time Test. Yet the Fourstardave was contested on yielding turf, putting a premium on the ability to get through the ground.
Would the one-turn mile around Woodbine’s firm course favor the purer speed types, rather than the multidimensional World Approval? And might the top weight of 124 pounds complicate his task?
World Approval blew apart any such brooding questions with a scintillating display. Ridden for the first time by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, the gray vied with 68-1 longshot Dragon Bay through splits of :23.77 and :46.45. Aidan O’Brien’s Deauville was lapped onto them in third, and still clung to World Approval’s flank as they left Dragon Bay behind at the six-furlong mark in 1:10.31.
In upper stretch, several contenders were poised to strike, including World Approval’s stablemate Conquest Panthera, O’Brien’s other chance Lancaster Bomber, and 2015 winner Mondialiste was angled out purposefully.
But World Approval spurted away from them in a few strides. Suddenly 2 1/2 lengths clear in midstretch, he maintained that margin over Lancaster Bomber at the wire. World Approval, spotting 12 pounds to the runner-up, reeled off a final quarter in :22.74 to finish in 1:33.05.
Long on Value was an unlucky half-length off Lancaster Bomber in third. Unable to get into the clear until it was too late, Long on Value would have been closer with a better passage. He denied Mondialiste the bronze medal in a photo, with Arod a useful fifth in his first start back from Australia. Dutch Connection didn’t have a smooth run in sixth either. Rounding out the order of finish were Conquest Panthera, Tower of Texas, Glenville Gardens, Best Bard, the disappointing Deauville, and Dragon Bay.
Eleven years ago, World Approval’s half-brother Miesque’s Approval clinched an Eclipse Award in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs. Could history be repeated?
Like the rest of the superb family, both excelled as they aged. Their dam, the winning With Approval mare Win Approval, is responsible for a total of four millionaires. The others are Grade 2 hero Revved Up and multiple Grade 3 scorer Za Approval, runner-up to Wise Dan in the 2013 Woodbine Mile and Breeders’ Cup Mile. Now Win Approval has yet another major Mile contender.
World Approval, a five-year-old gelding by Northern Afleet, promises to have at least a couple more years at his peak. His scorecard reads 23-10-2-4, $1,837,363.
Quotes from Woodbine
Hall of Famer John Velazquez on World Approval: “He was going so well the whole way around, I was just hoping when he switched down the lane, and I asked him, that he would respond. That’s exactly what he did. As soon as he switched, I let him know, he took off. He was ready.”
On whether he’s teamed up with the next Wise Dan:
“I hope so! He’s a very, very nice horse, I’ll tell you that. Maybe they found the distance he wants to do. Maybe I’ll put it that way.”
On his trip:
“The more I read the form, the more I looked at the horses, no one seemed to want to be on the lead. He broke really well so I kind of let him do it for the first sixteenth of the mile to see what everybody else was doing. So I kind of held the whole group all the way into the middle of the track to see if anybody wanted to take the lead and no one went. When I got to the turn, I dropped in. I kind of sat against him and he was really well, he settled really nice. About the five-sixteenths pole, put the head in front of other horse and felt the other horses coming. At the quarter pole, I asked him to run and he responded right away and he got away from the horses pretty easily.”
On his pre-race instructions:
“No, no instructions. The owner (Charlotte Weber) was here – all she said was just go and win, that’s it. (laughs). That was easy instructions.”
Winning trainer Mark Casse: “I thought his race was impressive. It’s not exactly the way he wants to run. I’ve said all along, I think he wants a target, but there wasn’t a whole lot of speed and Johnny realized that and rode him accordingly.
“A little bit (of a concern about being pressed). I just wasn’t sure how he would quicken with not having the target. That’s one of the things that seems to work for him when he has a target, he quickens a little better. I was a little concerned with that, but he’s a great horse, he a professional, ridden by a great rider.”
On not being at Woodbine:
“We had horses running all over the place and Mrs. Weber said she was going so I said, ‘Well, can you handle it?’ and she said she could. I was at command central in Keeneland buying horses and we had them running everywhere so it was last minute and I just decided not to come. She said she was going. We’re trying to buy the next Woodbine Mile winner.”
On going to the Breeders’ Cup:
“As long as he’s healthy, we are going to the Breeders’ Cup. Am I confident we can win? I don’t think I would change places with anybody. I think he’s good right now.
“I think he can do anything. We found the mile is what he wants. We’re excited to be going to the Breeder’s Cup. I’m excited.
“Mrs. Weber’s been a big part of my life for a long, long, long time. We both grew up in Ocala. She’s been there and Live Oak has been part of Ocala for 50 years so this was special. It was nice for her to be there. She had never been there for a win before so that was nice.”