Live Oak Plantation's homebred World Approval was already a grade 1 winner when the calendar turned, courtesy of his 2016 United Nations Stakes (G1T) score--and trainer Mark Casse had a plan.
"I talked to (owner Charlotte Weber and said, 'I don't think he can beat the best horses in the world going a mile and a half, but he might be able to beat them going a mile,' " Casse recalled.
He began the Northern Afleet gelding's 2017 campaign in Florida with the April 2 EG Vodka Turf Classic Stakes, a black-type affair for older Florida-breds going 1 1/8 miles at Tampa Bay Downs, which World Approval easily won. From there Casse upped the ante with a return to the graded ranks in the May 20 Longines Dixie Stakes (G2T) over 1 1/16 miles at Pimlico Race Course. World Approval won that as well.
World Approval's lone loss of the year came going 1 1/4 miles in the June 10 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (G1T), where World Approval led the way before fading to fifth. Casse knew it was time to dial it back to a mile—and when he did, the horse took his game to the stratosphere.
First came a 2 1/4-length domination of the Aug. 12 Fourstardave Handicap (G1T) over Time Test at Saratoga Race Course, then a 2 1/2-length blitz of the Ricoh Woodbine Mile (G1T) with Lancaster Bomber giving game but futile chase. A trip to California took nothing off World Approval's edge, and Hall of Famer John Velazquez got a leg up on the 5-2 favorite in a 14-horse field for the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1T) at Del Mar.
Stalking in fifth between horses, World Approval bided his time before shifting out three-wide to attack. He took the lead at the sixteenth pole and galloped home to a 1 1/4-length score in 1:34.55, with Lancaster Bomber his runner-up again.
The Eclipse Award is a tribute to the championship blood that flows through World Approval's veins. He is the last foal out of the blue hen mare Win Approval and is a half brother to champion grass male Miesque's Approval, who earned more than $2.6 million and took home his Eclipse trophy in 2006 after winning the NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile. Another half brother, multiple graded stakes winner Za Approval, ran second to two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Mile and Woodbine Mile and earned more than $1.3 million. The mare's first foal, the Sultry Song gelding Revved Up, was a grade 2 winner.
"I think I would say they're all late bloomers," Weber said. "And you have to have a lot of patience with them. But if you do, then you get the results."