Za Approval ran to his recent form and easily captured the $200,000 Knickerbocker Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park Oct. 12, coming off runner-up efforts behind Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Ricoh Woodbine Mile (Can-IT) and Obviously in the Shoemaker Mile (gr. IT) to get the job done (VIDEO).
Sent off the 8-5 favorite in a field of eight under jockey Joel Rosario, the Live Oak Plantation homebred went 1 1/8 miles on the firm inner turf in 1:46.51, capturing his third grade III victory, all coming this year. He won the Appleton Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Park March 30 for trainer Christophe Clement, then took the Red Bank Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Monmouth Park in his next start before turning in his two solid performances in the deep end.
Rosario, who returned to action a day earlier after sustaining a foot fracture, settled the 5-year-old Ghostzapper gelding in a good stalking spot 1 1/2 lengths behind early leader Plainview. The pacesetter showed the way through quick opening fractions of :24.26 and :47.43 while easily maintaining the advantage. Za Approval rated kindly and was not bothered by the advance of Tetradrachm, who drew along outside to take over the second spot behind the leader through three-quarters in 1:10.90.
As the field turned for home, Za Approval ranged up with a powerful outside move as a mile went in 1:34.38 and put away the front two in the final furlong. He kicked clear in the final sixteenth of a mile and finished 1 1/4 lengths ahead under a brisk hand ride. Plainview held for second, a neck over the late-closing Howe Great.
"He got the firm turf," said Clement, who was relieved the showers that had threatened the New York area never materialized. "Great horse, nice horse. He has won three graded stakes this year. He's a fun horse.
"When I ran him in the grade I races, he got beat by two of the best milers in the country. He has been getting better all of his life. He has been a great credit to the Live Oak team and Mrs. (Charlotte) Weber because they have been very patient with him, and it's wonderful when it works out."
Clement earned a record fifth win in the Knickerbocker, breaking a tie with Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens.
Rosario, after registering his second win since returning to competition, said he had faith in the ability of the Za Approval.
"This horse tries hard all the time," he said. "I rode him twice in Florida this winter, so I had confidence in him. I didn't want to rush him too much (early); they were going a little quick. With this horse, every time you ask him, he keeps giving."
Za Approval paid $5.50, $3.50, and $3.10 while Plainview returned $8.50 and $5.50. Howe Great paid $4.60 ahead of Tetradrachm, Swift Warrior, Boisterous, Mr. Commons, and Paris Vegas. Exclusive Strike and London Lane scratched to run in the Oct. 17 Bowl Game Stakes. Three main track only entrants—Percussion, Praetereo, and Don Dulce—also scratched.
Boisterous had taken the previous two renewals of the Knickerbocker and the this summer's Man o' War (gr. IT) winner was sent off as the 5-2 second choice.
Bred in Kentucky out of the With Approval mare Win Approval, Za Approval now has seven wins and five seconds from 16 starts, with earnings of $675,345.
According to Clement, the Knickerbocker could mark the season's end for Za Approval, or he could ship back to the California turf he seemed to relish when he was second in the Shoemaker.
"Turf season is close to an end," the trainer said. "Let's see how he comes out of it. We could either give him a break and send him to Live Oak, or we could give him one more race, such as the Citation (gr. IIT)" at Hollywood Nov. 29.