Gulch Approval Has Winning Nose in Oceanport

Two noses were all that separated the first three finishers in a desperate finish to Sunday's $100,000 Oceanport Handicap (gr. IIIT). Gulch Approval, ridden by Pat Day, eked out a victory over favored Kathir and Stormy Roman on the grass at Monmouth Park.

Gulch Approval, a 4-year-old Gulch gelding won for the third straight time while picking up his first graded stakes triumph for trainer Nick Zito and owner Marylou Whitney Stables. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile test on a firm course was 1:42 1/5.

Close up early, Gulch was able to pressure pacesetter Max's Buddy from the inside, saving ground until poking his head in front a furlong from home. From there it was an all-out effort as Kathir, the 2-1 favorite ridden by C.C. Lopez, angled out a bit for the drive, brushing with Burning Roma in deep stretch as he squeezed between horses in a game effort. Stormy Roman came charging on the outside in the final strides to just miss in a remarkable finish.

Royal Affirmed was a half-length behind in fourth, while Burning Roma, the 3-1 second choice in the field of 10, finished only a neck farther back.

Del Mar Show was sixth, followed by Stormy Ray, Max's Buddy, Mt. Carson and First Lieutenant.

Max's Buddy set a moderate pace of :23 4/5, :48 1/5, 1:12 1/5 and 1:36 1/5 before giving way.

Gulch Approval has come to life since returning to action from a seven-week layoff with a victory over allowance foes on Belmont Stakes day June 5. He followed that with a 1 3/4-length win in a division of the Elkwood at Monmouth July 17. Overall, he's won six of 22 with earnings of $271,582.

Bred in Kentucky by Milton Hendry and William S. Farish, Gulch Approval, out of the With Approval mare Classic Approval, was a $180,000 Fasig-Tipton yearling sale at Saratoga three years ago.

The winner paid $9.20, $4 and $3.40. Kathir, who won the Barbados Gold Cup (Bar-I) in March and also had a thee-race winning streak, returned $3.60 and $3. The show on Stormy Roman was $5.20.

(Chart, Equibase)