With the 2017 Triple Crown season in the rearview mirror, the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” season is gearing up. While “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series races for this year’s event have been taking place since January, the U.S. races are now coming fast and furious as we edge closer to fall.
World Approval is a homebred 5-year-old gelding from Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Stud operation that is based in Ocala, Fla. Winless in two races as a 2-year-old in 2014, World Approval established himself as a rising star as a 3-year-old in 2015.
He won his season debut and followed with a stakes victory at Tampa Bay Downs before running third in the Grade 2 American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs on the undercard of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, won that year by future Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
World Approval earned his first graded stakes win in July 2015 when he won the Grade 3 American Derby by a neck at Arlington Park. He added a win in the Grade 3 Saranac Stakes later that summer at Saratoga.
In 2016, World Approval proved truly elite when he put together a three-race streak that featured a runner-up finish by a neck in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes, a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes, and a 1 ¼-length win in the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap. His Equibase Speed Figures for the three races — 118-116-117, respectively — showed he was capable of consistent excellence against top-class competition. After three straight losses to close out the 2016 season, it seemed clear that the talent was there with World Approval but perhaps one key to the puzzle was missing.
After winning the EG Vodka Turf Classic Stakes and Grade 2 Dixie Stakes, both at 1 1/16 miles, to open his 5-year-old season, World Approval finished fifth in the 1 ¼-mile Manhattan in a race that was an eye-opener for trainer Mark Casse.
“He was doing really well before the Manhattan, but the Manhattan is just too far for him against those type of quality horses,” Casse said. “Then you go back and you see that he won [the] Grade 1 [United Nations] going a mile and three-eighths, but it wasn’t that tough for him and he had everything go his way. I always thought that a mile was going to be his best distance, because he’s tactical enough to sit relatively close and he’s fast, so he can finish with a big kick and that’s what you need.”
Casse cut World Approval back to one mile for the Grade 1 Fourstardave Handicap on Aug. 12 at Saratoga and he delivered a dominant 2 ¼-length victory, tracking from third early and proving much the best in the stretch.
“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],” Casse said after the Fourstardave. “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.
“It was a big question about what he would do at a mile distance, and he obviously loved it and now that opens up a lot of different avenues for us.”
In the Woodbine Mile, World Approval turned in arguably his most impressive win to date. He pressed a swift pace from second through a half-mile in :46.45, seized command after three-quarters of a mile in 1:10.31, and then finished with a blistering final quarter-mile in :22.74 to overwhelm his opposition. He won by 2 ½ lengths and completed the mile in 1:33.05. Racehorses who can run that fast early and still finish like World Approval did in the Woodbine Mile boast exceptional talent.
At the one-mile distance, World Approval has two wins and one third in three starts. If you add in 1 1/16-mile races to the equation, he has five wins, two thirds, and two fourths in nine races at one mile or 1 1/16 miles.
World Approval is the real deal and, in my opinion, a worthy favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Mile even if the race draws several top European runners.
Produced by Weber’s blue hen mare Win Approval, by With Approval, World Approval is a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to 2006 champion turf male and Breeders’ Cup Mile victor Miesque’s Approval as well as multiple graded stakes winners Revved Up and Za Approval, who ran second to Wise Dan in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Mile.
World Approval is by Northern Afleet, best known as the sire of 2005 Preakness-Belmont Stakes winner and champion 3-year-old male Afleet Alex. Northern Afleet also is the sire of 2011 champion sprinter Amazombie and 2009 Canadian champion 2-year-old filly Negligee among 90 stakes winners and 34 group/graded stakes winners through Sept. 19.
Northern Afleet is a grandson of breed-shaping sire Mr. Prospector, and thus World Approval has a pedigree very similar to his aforementioned champion sibling Miesque’s Approval, whose sire, Miesque’s Son, was by Mr. Prospector.
While Revved Up was just getting started when he passed the one-mile marker, Miesque’s Approval, Za Approval, and now World Approval all profile as elite milers. Now that Casse has discovered his ideal distance, it will be fun to watch over the next year or two as World Approval has a chance to develop into the best turf miler in the U.S.