If all goes according to plan over the next two weeks, Thoroughbred racing fans will get to welcome a Breeders' Cup winner and Eclipse Award champion to Tampa Bay Downs on Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South, Feb. 10.
World Approval, the 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding who won the Breeders' Cup Mile on the turf on Nov. 4 at Del Mar to sew up the 2017 Eclipse Champion Grass Male Award, has been nominated to the Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes, a mile-and-a-sixteenth turf event for horses 4-years-old-and-upward.
Reached by telephone earlier today, trainer Mark Casse said he intends to send the Live Oak Plantation homebred World Approval to Oldsmar to kick off his 2018 campaign. World Approval is 2-for-2 at Tampa Bay Downs, winning the Florida Cup Sophomore Turf Stakes in 2015 and the Florida Cup EG Vodka Turf Classic last year.
“He breezed yesterday, and he looked great this morning,” Casse said. “After the Breeders' Cup, we sent him home to Live Oak (owner Charlotte Weber's Ocala farm), which we do every year, and got him back the last week of December.
“He looks good and is ready to go, and we're hoping for another big year. This is just the beginning. Johnny (Velazquez, the Hall of Fame jockey) will be coming to Tampa to ride him.”
Casse confirmed he hopes to use the Tampa Bay Stakes as a stepping stone to an appearance by World Approval overseas in the $6-million Dubai Turf on March 31.
“We brought Tepin to Tampa (for both the Lambholm South Endeavour and the Hillsborough Stakes, in 2016) and it worked well,” Casse said of his retired 2015 and 2016 Eclipse Champion Grass Mare, who won both Oldsmar stakes.
“At this time last year (leading to the EG Vodka Turf Classic), we were trying to get World Approval back on track and build his confidence, and Tampa Bay Downs played a big part in that. We've always loved the turf course there,” Casse said.
World Approval breezed 5 furlongs Saturday at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach in 1:00.60. “He'll have one more easy breeze, then hopefully we'll show up there,” Casse said.
The Tampa Bay Stakes closed Saturday with 30 nominations.
The Tampa Bay Stakes is one of four stakes on the Festival Preview Day card, along with the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds going a mile-and-a-sixteenth; the Grade III, $175,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes on the grass, for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-a-sixteenth; and the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-40 yards.
Casse has also nominated Grade I-winning 4-year-old filly La Coronel to the Lambholm South Endeavour and Flameaway to the Sam F. Davis and intends to enter both. La Coronel finished second in last year's Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs. Flameaway is a Grade III winner who competed in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf; both horses are owned by John C. Oxley.
The Sam F. Davis is a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race, with the top four finishers accruing points toward starting-gate eligibility for the Run for the Roses on May 5 at Churchill Downs.
The Sam F. Davis closed with 45 nominations, nine from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won the race six times, most recently with subsequent Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets runner-up Destin in 2016.
Among Pletcher's nominees is 3-year-old colt Vino Rosso, 2-for-2 after a solid allowance/optional claiming victory here on Dec. 22, and multiple-stakes winning colt Bal Harbour.
The Sam F. Davis nominations list is chockfull of horses that could make plenty of noise on the Triple Crown trail. It includes Avery Island, who won the Grade II Nashua at Aqueduct in November, and Enticed, the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club winner in November, both trained by Kiaran McLaughlin; last year's Grade II Remsen Stakes winner Catholic Boy, a colt from the barn of Jonathan Thomas; and World of Trouble, trainer Jason Servis' sophomore colt who dazzled with a 13 ¾-length victory here in the Pasco Stakes on Jan. 20.
Also nominated are Grade I Hopeful Stakes winner Sporting Chance and Grade I-placed colt Bravazo, both trained by D. Wayne Lukas; trainer Dale Romans' Free Drop Billy, who won the Grade I Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last fall; and Tricks to Doo, who won the Inaugural Stakes here on Dec. 16 for trainer Arnaud Delacour.
The Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes closed with 36 nominations, while the Suncoast, which is a “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points race, closed with 26 nominations.
In addition to La Coronel, the Lambholm South Endeavour list includes Argentine-bred 6-year-old Dona Bruja, a multiple graded-stakes winner trained by Ignacio Correas, IV; 6-year-old Kitten's Roar, a Grade II winner from the barn of Michael Maker; 4-year-old Madam Dancealot and 5-year-old Mokat, both Grade II winners trained by Richard Baltas; and Grade III-winning 5-year-old Ultra Brat, from the barn of H. Graham Motion.
The Suncoast achieved “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points status after 2015 winner Include Betty and 2016 winner Weep No More went on to win Grade I events and last year's runner-up, Elate, won two subsequent Grade I stakes.
Top nominees for this year's edition include Motion's Almond Roca, impressive winner here of both the Sandpiper and Gasparilla Stakes; Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies third-place finisher Blonde Bomber, trained by Stanley I. Gold; Grade III winner Daisy, trained by John Servis; and Grade I-placed Princess Warrior, trained by Ken McPeek.
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