Even-money choice T.H. Approval reinforced his status as California's leading long distance turf horse when he circled the field on the final turn and surged to victory in the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) at 11 furlongs Sunday.
Tadahiro Hotehama's homebred T.H. Approval now owns victories in all three of the major Southern California tracks' top marathon handicap races, becoming the first horse to accomplish that feat. He's won the last two renewals of Santa Anita's San Juan Capistrano Invitational (gr. IIT) at about 1 3/4 miles, as well as Hollywood Park's Sunset Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) at 12 furlongs in his last start July 16.
Trainer Eduardo Inda said he'd like to give the 5-year-old gray son of With Approval
a shot at the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.
"If it rains, even better," said Inda, a well-respected trainer on the Southern California circuit whose barn has been reduced to five horses.
"The last two races have been very impressive," said Inda. He indicated that Oak Tree's 10-furlong Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Sept. 30 could be the next stop for T.H. Approval. A match-up with Lava Man on the grass is possible.
"If you tell me Lava Man and The Tin Man will go head and head in 21 and change, I'll go," Inda said of a possible run in the Hirsch. "It'll either be the Breeders' Cup or the Japan Cup (after that). I'd like to go to Japan because Mr. Hotehama lives there."
With regular rider Alex Solis aboard, T.H. Approval came from off the pace with a sweeping move starting from the three-furlong marker. Taking a four-wide path into the home stretch, T.H. Approval surged past the leaders inside the eighth pole to win going away by 1 1/2 lengths. The winning time was an outstanding 2:12.34, just over a fifth of a second off the track record set by Crazy Ensign of 2:12.07 in 2003.
"He has that great, long run in him and I can ask him for it whenever I want," Solis said. "About the five-eighths (pole) I decided I wanted to go marching -- and we went. Eduardo is such a good man and a great horseman. I hope people see what he can do with a horse like this and give him more horses."
Artiste Royal, who saved much ground along the inside for David Flores, nosed Super Strut and Tyler Baze for second, with the pacesetter Cheroot finishing fourth.
"(T.H. Approval) was outside and my horse never saw him," Flores said. "If he had, he would have tried to go get him. But the winner is such a good horse, I don't know if it would have made any difference."
Breaking from the far outside post in the field of 10, T.H. Approval stayed clear of trouble at the start when Symphony Sid, ridden by Martin Garcia, veered in sharply, causing quite a bit of trouble for most of the inside horses. Victor Espinoza, aboard Runaway Dancer, took up sharply and lost all position. Symphony Sid was disqualified from fifth to seventh by the stewards.
"I got banged on both sides coming away from there, then he clipped heels and I almost went down," Espinoza said. "It took me right out of the race. I was never in it."
Solis kept T.H. Approval to the outside while near the rear of the pack as Cheroot led the way through sharp fractions of :23 4/5, :47 1/5, 1:11 4/5 and 1:36. Artiste Royale was the first to collar the pacesetter, followed closely by Super Strut. But T.H. Approval, who followed Super Strut around traffic, rumbled by them all on the outside.
With three wins and a pair of seconds in six starts in 2006, T.H. Approval - who carried high weight of 120 pounds Sunday - is enjoying by far his best year. Overall, he has won seven of 25, with earnings of $813,708.
The winner paid $4, $3.20, and $2.60. Artiste Royal, a group III winner in France, remained winless in five starts in the U.S. while returning $4.40 and $4. The California-bred Super Strut was $4 to show.
After Cheroot came Mighty Mysterious and Runaway Dancer, both moved up via disqualification, Symphony Sid, Paraquedista, Indiantown Jones and Quinquin the King.