The fact World Approval is most dangerous when he has a target to go after is not exactly breaking news within the Casse Racing shedrow.
With his striking ivory-colored coat, Live Oak Plantation's homebred 5-year-old gelding is the kind of physical specimen any admirer of horseflesh would want to get to get close to—that is, until, one sees the battle scars of those who dared to venture into the son of Northern Afleet 's personal space.
"He lures you in a little bit with his beauty and then it's like he strikes at any time," trainer Mark Casse said of the grade 1 winner. "People ask if he's like (his multiple graded stakes-winning half brother) Za Approval and I'm like 'Yeah, they're both mean.'"
The same attitude that makes World Approval a terror around the barn helped bring out his best self on the track. Give him a mark to go after and, chances are, there will be some woeful victims on the receiving end of his fire.
The notion that World Approval thrives when given something to attack was the catalyst behind the recent decision to shorten him to up to one mile, despite his prior success over a route of ground. It is a call that has already yielded top-level returns and one the Casse barn hopes will produce another victory on their adopted home court in the $800,000 Ricoh Woodbine Mile (G1T) at Woodbine Sept. 16.
Changing things up with a proven horse often only happens when trying to shake out of a rut, not after they won two of their first three starts of the year and were training sharp as ever. After World Approval finished fifth in the 1 1/4-mile Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (G1T) at Belmont Park June 10, however, Casse had his ornery protégé cut back to eight furlongs for the first time since his second start. That move led to the gelding's second grade 1 victory when he took the Aug. 12 Fourstardave Handicap by 2 1/4 lengths over the inner turf at Saratoga Race Course.
World Approval proved his tactical speed could hold up over the longer haul, most notably during his victory in the 2016 United Nations Stakes (G1T) at 1 3/8-miles, but his connections felt added distance worked against him as the competition got tougher.
"He likes a target to run at, and when he runs farther, the pace isn't as fast, so he ends up not having a target," said Casse, the longtime kingpin of Woodbine with nine Sovereign Awards for outstanding trainer and a spot in the Canadian Hall of Fame. "So we figured if we shortened him up, there would be more speed and he would be able to settle and sit behind. And realistically, we thought ... he had already proven that going 1 1/2 miles he wasn't able to beat the bigger, better horses. So we just thought maybe we shorten him back up—give him a target. And his race (in the Fourstardave) was probably the best race he's ever run."
If the current incarnation of World Approval is the best he's been, he couldn't have picked a better time to come into his own.
With the retirement of two-time Eclipse Award winner and 2016 Woodbine Mile heroine Tepin earlier this year, there are voids that need to be filled in the Casse barn. While World Approval may not share his former stablemate's affable demeanor or transcendent ability, his professionalism has been a welcome constant for his overseers.
Tough as he is to handle, the gray gelding is as amenable as they come in his training. Since opening his year with wins in the April 2 EG Vodka Turf Classic Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and Longines Dixie Stakes (G2T) at Pimlico Race Course May 20, World Approval has followed whatever path Casse has set for him.
"He's actually a perfect gentleman to train," said Norman Casse, son of and top assistant to Mark. "I like to refer to him as the world's meanest racehorse, because he's just very territorial in his stall. But as far as being a racehorse is concerned ... he knows his job and he loves his job. He makes that part of life very easy.
"He's the type of horse you want around in the barn, because he actually does everything you ask him to. You pick out a race for him, you map out how you want to get him there breeze-pattern wise and fitness wise, and he makes it really easy to mark off all the things you need to do going into a big race, because he's so willing to do whatever needs to be done."
Installed as the 7-2 morning-line second choice in the 12-horse Woodbine Mile field, World Approval will begin his run Saturday from the inside post and will be piloted for the first time by Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
Trainer Aidan O'Brien has sent two representatives from his Ballydoyle stable to the Woodbine Mile, including 5-2 morning-line favorite Deauville. The son of Galileo (IRE) heads to the race off a third-place finish in the Aug. 12 Arlington Million XXXV Stakes (G1T) and finished third behind multiple group 1 winner Ribchester going eight-furlongs in this year's Queen Anne Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot in June.
Deauville prevailed in his stateside debut last year, when he took the Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes (G1T) but has just one win in eight starts since, a victory in the sportingbet.com Huxley Stakes (G3) at Chester in May.
"He has tons of experience. Nothing seems to bother him," said T.J. Comerford, head traveling lad for O'Brien. "He's a very talented horse."
Lancaster Bomber has just a maiden win from 11 starts but was the runner-up in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1T) and finished ahead of his dual Guineas-winning stablemate Churchill when second to Barney Roy in the St. James's Palace Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot in June.
Conquest Panthera is undefeated in two starts over the Woodbine course and most recently pulled the upset in the Play the King Stakes (G2T) at seven furlongs.
"There are a lot of horses that won't run over that turf course ... so it's always nice when you see a horse who is able to win over it," Casse said. "I think it's an advantage."
Although winless in six outings this season, Mondialiste captured the 2015 Woodbine Mile and snapped a five-race losing skid last year with his win in the 2016 Arlington Million.