A rain shower that caused a slight delay in the afternoon's races did not hamper Live Oak Plantation's homebred World Approval on Saturday; the 5-year-old gray son of Northern Afleet stormed home to win the second Grade 1 race of his career in Saratoga's Fourstardave Handicap. Ridden by Manny Franco, World Approval settled off the early pace, came three-wide around the far turn and exploded down the lane to win by 2 1/4 lengths at the wire. Trained by Mark Casse, the gelding covered one mile on the “good” turf in 1:37.65 (Equibase officially ranked the course yielding, but the track had it ranked as good).
“When we saw the rain was coming, Ms. [Charlotte] Weber was concerned and we talked about it a few times, and I thought his race was so good in the [Grade 2] Dixie, I thought the rain it wasn't going to hurt her,” Casse said. “We couldn't get Julien [Leparoux] and I said to Norman [Casse], ‘We're going to win the Fourstardave and I'm not sure who's going to ride him.' It turned out to be Manny; he impresses me. He played in a basketball charity game last week and he had so much drive and he's so athletic and we've got some luck with him, so let's ride him.
“You couldn't have asked him to ride a horse any better. The only instructions I told him was that he likes a target. That was one of the reasons we cut him back to a mile, because we thought if we could win the Breeders' Cup Mile or have a shot anywhere, it would be a mile [race]. When you run him farther, he doesn't get a target. [If it's] shorter, there's more speed, and he got a target and it looked like he loved it.”
Sassy Little Lila strode out strongly to take the early lead, drawing away to a two-length advantage over Ballagh Rocks and World Approval. Around the first turn, the filly made it very tight on Ballagh Rocks, who was forced to pull back and angle to her outside, leaving World Approval three-wide on the course. Time Test followed the leading trio, with Disco Partner at the rear of the pack and American Patriot well behind.
Through fractions of :24.64 and :49.86, Sassy Little Lila held her advantage, but Ballagh Rocks came up to challenge on her outside around the far turn. World Approval made his move shortly thereafter, still three-wide, and the three turned for home on nearly even terms.
Ballagh Rocks took over the lead, but World Approval would not be denied. Driving past his rival, World Approval stretched his margin of victory out to 2 1/4 lengths over the closing Time Test. Ballagh Rocks had to settle for third, and Disco Partner checked in fourth.
“I just rode the best horse in the race,” Franco said. “I just tried to stay out of trouble and I think that was the key. I sensed the pace was good enough because they were fighting for the lead on the first turn. I knew the pace, and they were going fast.”
Bred in Florida by his owner, World Approval adds the Fourstardave to the United Nations victory already on his resume. The big, consistent gray has now won nine of his 22 career starts, and earned over $1.4 million.
“Maybe the Woodbine Mile is a possibility, but I haven't really thought about it,” Casse said when asked about World Approval's next start. “Long-term, our goal was the Breeders' Cup, but we're just happy to have this. We won the Woodbine Mile last year; I wouldn't mind winning it two years in a row.”
Watch the race replay here:
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