Dialing back in distance and skimming easily over good turf after a heavy rainstorm Aug. 12 at Saratoga Race Course, veteran World Approval kicked clear by 2 1/4 lengths to win the $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap (G1T).
Live Oak Plantation's homebred 5-year-old Northern Afleet gelding landed his third win—all in stakes races—from four starts this season. He came into the one-mile Fourstardave off his only loss of the year, a fifth in the June 10 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (G1T) going 1 1/4 miles at Belmont Park.
"He likes a target," trainer Mark Casse said. "That was one of the reasons we cut him back to a mile, because we thought if we could win the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1T) or have a shot anywhere, it would be a mile (race). When you run him farther, he doesn't get a target. Shorter, there's more speed, and he got a target and it looked like he loved it."
World Approval locked on to pacesetter Sassy Little Lila, the lone filly in a six-horse field, through opening fractions of :24.64 and :49.86 with eventual third-place finisher Ballagh Rocks on her heels. In striking range on the outside, the 121-pound co-highweight ranged up with a powerful four-wide move around the far turn through three-quarters in 1:14.46, and carried Manuel Franco to the jockey's first Saratoga grade 1 win.
"I just tried to stay out of trouble, and I think that was the key," Franco said. "I sensed the pace was good enough because they were fighting for the lead on the first turn. I knew the pace, and they were going fast.
"He handled the ground really well. I saw on paper that he had been on this kind of turf before and he ran really well."
World Approval won the May 20 Longines Dixie Stakes (G2T) at Pimlico Race Course on a course rated good.
"When we saw the rain was coming, Ms. (Charlotte) Weber (of Live Oak) was concerned and we talked about it a few times, and I thought his race was so good in the Dixie, I thought the rain it wasn't going to hurt," Casse said.
With Julien Leparoux in Illinois to ride the Arlington Million XXXV (G1T) card, Franco got the mount. It was the third grade 1 victory of his career; he took the Frizette Stakes (Yellow Agate) and Vosburgh Stakes (Joking) in 2016.
"I said to (assistant trainer) Norman (Casse), 'We're going to win the Fourstardave and I'm not sure who's going to ride him,'" Casse said. "It turned out to be Manny; he impresses me. He played in a basketball charity game last week and he had so much drive and he's so athletic, and we've got some luck with him. You couldn't have asked him to ride a horse any better."
The final time for the mile test was 1:37.65. Time Test closed for second, while Ballagh Rocks finished third. The order of finish was completed by Disco Partner, Sassy Little Lila, and American Patriot. Weekend Hideaway, entered for the main track only, was scratched.
World Approval was bred in Florida out of the With Approval mare Win Approval and is a half brother to multiple graded stakes winner Za Approval, and NetsJets Breeders' Cup Mile winner Miesque's Approval. World Approval's overall record stands at 9-2-4 from 22 starts, including one prior grade 1 victory, in the 2016 United Nations Stakes (G1T). He improved his earnings to $1,443,763.
"Maybe the (Ricoh) Woodbine Mile (G1T) is a possibility, but I haven't really thought about it," Casse said of World Approval's likely next target. "Long-term, our goal was the Breeders' Cup, but we're just happy to have this. We won the Woodbine Mile last year (with champion Tepin); I wouldn't mind winning it two years in a row."