OLDSMAR, FL – Live Oak Plantation’s homebred World Approval continued his world dominance, making his first start of 2018 a winning one in Saturday’s Grade 3, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
Breaking well from post 7 under John Velazquez, World Approval stalked the early pace set by Western Reserve and Le Ken through opening splits of :23.25, :46.66, and 1:10.32. Moving through the far turn and gaining command at the top of the stretch, World Approval was confidently handled through to the wire, finishing a 1/2-length past Forge in a final time of 1:40.66 for the 1 1/16-mile turf test.
“He was coming off a long layoff, and sometimes they need a race, but he’s still a true champion, and he put everybody away down the lane,” Velazquez said. “I think when we passed a mile, it was getting a little long for him with the layoff, and (the extra 1/16) hit him right in the head a little bit.”
Fire Away finished third, a 1/2-length in front of Tasit. Fifth went to Noble Thought, while Le Ken and Western Reserve faded to sixth and seventh, respectively. Brass Oak was scratched.
A scary incident occurred midway through the far turn when Doctor Mounty abruptly fell, taking Cheyenne’s Colonel down with him. However, both horses jumped up and jogged through the finish line sans riders Antonio Gallardo and Manoel Cruz, respectively. Gallardo returned to the jockey’s room unhurt, while Cruz was transported to a local hospital, though he didn’t appear to be seriously hurt.
World Approval’s win came in his first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Del Mar in early November. The 6-year-old gelded son of Northern Afleet now has a record of 25-12-2-4, while the $115,000 winner’s share of the purse pushed him past the $3 million earnings mark ($3,052,363).
“He has been better than he was today, but hopefully, this will set a nice foundation for him this year,” Casse said. “He’s a funny horse – he is not going to let you by.”
World Approval returned $2.40 to win, $2.20 to place, and $2.10 to show. Forge brought back $5 to place and $2.80 to show, while Fire Away paid $2.60 to show.