Reigning Eclipse Award champion World Approval made his 2018 debut in Saturday's G3 Tampa Bay Stakes, and was sent off at odds of 1-5 over the field of nine. The now 6-year-old son of Northern Afleet had to dig in late in the stretch to fend off a run from Forge, but maintained a 3/4-length margin of victory over that rival at the wire. Ridden by John Velazquez for trainer Mark Casse, Live Oak's World Approval covered 1 1/16 miles on a firm Tampa turf course in 1:40.66.
“He was coming off a long layoff and sometimes they need a race, but he's still a true champion and he put everybody away down the lane,” Velazquez said. “I think when we passed a mile it was getting a little long for him with the layoff and it (the extra sixteenth) hit him right in the head a little bit.”
In an incident in the far turn, Doctor Mounty and Cheyenne's Colonel fell and unseated their jockeys. Both horses got up and appeared unhurt, apprehended by the outriders. Jockeys Antonio Gallardo and Manoel Cruz both got up as well, but Cruz was taken off the course on a stretcher to go to a local hospital. Gallardo returned to jockey's room but did not ride the final race.
World Approval left the gates well for Velazquez, and was content to sit behind the speed duel between Le Ken and Western Reserve as they rattled off fractions of :23.25 and :46.66. Approaching the far turn, World Approval began to move up toward the leaders all on his own, and it wasn't until he was nearly even with them that Velazquez began to ask the gelding for his best.
With ease, World Approval launched to the front and settled in for the run down to the wire. He was pressed late by Forge and jockey Manny Franco, and had to dig in to maintain his 3/4-length advantage going under the wire. Forge checked in second, while Fire Away and Tacit filled out the superfecta.
“I feel bad for the two horses that fell and those jockeys,” Casse said. “He (World Approval) has been better than he was today, but hopefully this will set a nice foundation for him this year. He's a funny horse – he is not going to let you by.”
Bred in Florida by his owner Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Stud, World Approval completed a stellar 2017 season with a win in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Now, the gelding may well be headed to Dubai for the World Cup Carnival in late March. Overall, World Approval has won 12 of his 25 starts to earn over $3 million.
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