The main objective this weekend at Pimlico Race Course for Team Casse is the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes (G1). But the stable will have ample opportunities to make some noise before they run Classic Empire in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown Saturday afternoon.
The $250,000 Longines Dixie (G2) is among six Pimlico stakes trainer Mark Casse is targeting on both Friday and Saturday. The Casse-trained World Approval, a Grade 1 winner, is among 10 older males entered in Saturday's 116th running of the Dixie, a 1 1/16-mile turf race, carded as the race before the Preakness. World Approval will be joined by stablemate Conquest Typhoon in the Dixie.
Live Oak Plantation's homebred World Approval produced a smashing victory at Tampa Bay Downs in the Turf Classic Stakes for Florida-breds in early April. It was the 5-year-old's seasonal debut and his first win in four starts since capturing last year's United Nations (G1) at Monmouth Park. The son of Northern Afleet was entered to run in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (G1) on the Kentucky Derby undercard, but was scratched when rain softened the turf course.
“We were just not happy with the turf at Churchill the other day in the Woodford, so we took him out with the idea of running him in here. We think he will really like it here,” said Norman Casse, the son of and chief assistant to Mark Casse.
Winnning as the odds-on favorite in a seven-horse field in Tampa's Turf Classic, World Approval powered to a 2 1/4-length win under jockey Julien Leparoux, who has the return mount in the Dixie.
“He kind of trained unremarkable coming into the Tampa race,” the younger Casse said. “We were looking for an easy race; it was the perfect spot for him. And then he ran back to his full potential. Since then he's been back working like the old World Approval. He probably even needed that race; it woke him up a little bit. Now we expect him to run even better this time.”
It hasn't been since his 3-year-old campaign that World Approval has strung together two consecutive wins. Casse, however, doesn't view that as a knock against this horse.
“Trip is very paramount in turf racing,” he said. “I don't think there is anything we ever read into why he hasn't run well in back-to-back races. We always think he comes over and runs his race. He's probably only ever run two bad races in his whole career, on the turf, anyway.”
World Approval, who drew Post 2, has early speed, a tactical advantage Casse would like to exploit to its fullest.
“I think speed is paramount in horse racing,” Casse said. “If you can sit a good trip, sitting close, you'll be awfully tough to beat if you're in the right spot and you get things your way. That's a perfect scenario for World Approval. We won't try to stop him from using his speed.”
Gary Barber's Conquest Typhoon enters the Dixie off of a win in an allowance race at Belmont Park earlier this month. It was the gelding's first win since March 2016.
“He's a horse that we've always thought the world of,” Casse said. “We even went back and we purchased him out of the sale when [Conquest Stables] had the dispersement. He was always a horse who worked really, really well, but he wasn't putting it all together so we gelded him. I think that last race was a true indicator of what he's capable of doing. It will be very interesting to see where he's at in stakes company.”
Hall of Famer Mike Smith will ride Conquest Typhoon from Post 9.
Trainer Chad Brown, who is in town Saturday with his first Preakness starter, Cloud Computing, has a pair of runners, Catapult and Projected, for the Dixie, a race he won last year with Takeover Target.
Juddmonte Farms' homebred Projected enters the Dixie following an allowance victory over Grade 1 winner Divisidero at Keeneland in April. Woodford Racing's Catapult finished second in Aqueduct's Danger's Hour Stakes in his most recent start.
The 5-year-old Projected, bred in Great Britain, will be making his third start for Brown, after beginning his career in France where he won four of 11 starts.
“I've always liked Projected,” Brown said. “He just took a while to come around. He ran a very good race this last time. He beat Divisidero in an allowance, and Divisidero came back and won a Grade 1 [Woodford Reserve] in his next start, so Projected's form is very good.
“We thought the mile and a sixteenth in the Dixie would suit him, rather than running him back in the Woodford Reserve,” he added. “We've been pointing to the Dixie since that allowance race.”
Brown said Catapult, a 4-year-old son of Kitten's Joy, was a victim of a pace scenario that propelled front-runner Macagone to victory in the Danger's Hour April 9.
“Catapult is a horse who is rounding back to his best form again,” Brown said. “He's coming off a good runner-up finish at Aqueduct, where the pace really played against him, but he still ran well. He's put together a good string of works since then.”
Joel Rosario rides Projected from Post 4, while Catapult breaks from the eight-hole under Hall of Famer-elect Javier Castellano.
Trainer Graham Motion knows a thing or two about getting a horse primed to win the Dixie. In 2006, he won the race with the venerable Better Talk Now and three years earlier with Dr. Brendler. This year he is represented by Grade 1 winner Ring Weekend.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, a three-time winner of the Dixie, including a renewal with his champion Lure in 1993, has shipped Security Risk here for this year's running. The Phipps Stable homebred, a son of War Front, seeks his first stakes win following four victories in 14 starts.
The competitive field also includes the Christophe Clement-trained Blacktype, a multiple graded stakes winner on the turf. Top of Mind, One Mean Man and Talk Show Man round out the group.
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