In his first start since taking home the Eclipse Award as champion turf horse, World Approval obliged as the 1-5 favorite in Saturday’s $175,000 Tampa Bay S. (G3) – but only after the 12-1 Forge forced him all the way to the line.
Live Oak Plantation’s homebred brought a three-race winning streak into his seasonal reappearance, comprising the Fourstardave (G1), Woodbine Mile (G1), and Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). None was particularly close, and the Tampa Bay figured to be more of the same, especially with World Approval being far and away the class of this field.
For much of the way, the champion was sitting in his typical garden spot with Hall of Famer John Velazquez. A speed duel was unfolding in front him as Western Reserve and Le Ken alternated for the lead through splits of :23.25, :46.66, and 1:10.32 on the firm course. That pace was considerably faster than Argentine champion Dona Bruja’s in the companion Endeavour (G3).
Just as World Approval launched his bid on the far turn, unfortunate incidents were occurring behind him. Doctor Mounty fell, unseating jockey Antonio Gallardo, and bringing down Cheyenne’s Colonel and rider Manoel Cruz in the process. The track reported via Twitter that Cruz was sent to the hospital and Gallardo was undergoing medical examination in the jockeys’ room. Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee furnished a happier update that both jockeys escaped serious injury, and the horses got up and galloped the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, Forge was moving purposefully to challenge new leader World Approval in the stretch. The Juddmonte homebred was intent on making the most of the seven-pound weight spread, and for a stride or two looked a danger. After all, an odds-on favorite had just been overturned in the Sam F. Davis (G3), where Flameaway – a stablemate of World Approval’s from the Mark Casse barn – upset Catholic Boy in the Kentucky Derby points race. Would Casse then suffer the same fate in turn on the racing rollercoaster?
World Approval rebuffed the very idea. Quickening through a final sixteenth in :5.92, he kept finding enough to keep Forge at bay by a half-length. The gray stopped the clock in 1:40.66 for 1 1/16 miles to extend his skein to four in a row.
Another four lengths astern in third came Fire Away, followed by Tasit, Noble Thought, and pacesetters Le Ken and Western Reserve. Brass Compass was scratched.
World Approval’s bankroll swelled to $3,052,363, and his 25-12-2-4 record includes additional graded victories in the 2015 American Derby (G3) and Saranac (G3), 2016 United Nations (G1), and last year’s Dixie (G2). He’s also three-for-three at Tampa, having captured a pair of restricted races on Florida Cup Day, the 2015 Sophomore Turf and 2017 Turf Classic. His five stakes placings comprise the 2015 American Turf (G2) and 2016 Manhattan (G1), Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1), Mervin Muniz Memorial (G2), and Northern Dancer Turf (G1).
The Florida-bred son of Northern Afleet and the prolific Win Approval is a half-brother to 2006 champion turf horse Miesque’s Approval and fellow millionaires Za Approval and Revved Up.
Dubai is now calling for World Approval, who plans to take on the world in the Dubai Turf (G1) on the March 31 Dubai World Cup program.