SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – The yielding turf was exactly what World Approval wanted on Saturday, relishing it to take the Grade 1, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga Race Course.
The 5-year-old gelding tracked the initial pace set by the field’s only filly, Sassy Little Lila, through fractions of :24.64, :49.86, and 1:14.46. Jockey Manny Franco coaxed World Approval four-wide into the upper stretch, rallying past his foes to take the lead and complete the mile-long turf race in 1:37.65.
Winning over less-than-firm turf wasn’t new to the Live Oak homebred. He previously took the Grade 2 Longines Dixie in May and the Grade 1 United Nations in 2016 over courses rated good.
“He handled the ground really well,” said Franco. “I saw on paper that he had been on this kind of turf before and he ran really well. I feel so lucky right now. I want to thank the trainer for giving me the opportunity.”
Time Test rallied late to get second, 2 1/4 lengths behind the winner. After running in second for the entire trip, Ballagh Rocks slowed near the end but held on for third. Disco Partner, the world record-holder for a 6 furlong turf race, wasn’t able to get good footing on the soft turf and finished fourth. Sassy Little Lila was fifth, while America Patriot had an awkard start and never improved from sixth. Weekend Hideaway was a main-track-only entry.
The Fourstardave was the first aboard the Mark Casse trainee for Franco. Regular rider Julien Leparoux was racing at Arlington Park for the weekend.
“We couldn’t get Julien, and I said to Norman (his son and assistant), ‘We’re going to win the Fourstardave, and I’m not sure who’s going to ride him,'” said Casse. It turned out to be Manny; he impresses me. You couldn’t have asked him to ride a horse any better. The only instruction I told him was that (World Approval) likes a target. That was one of the reasons we cut him back to a mile, because we thought if we could win the Breeders’ Cup Mile or have a shot anywhere, it would be a mile. When you run him farther, he doesn’t get a target; shorter, there’s more speed. He got a target (today) and it looked like he loved it.”
World Approval returned $12.60 to win, $5.10 to place, and $3.60 to show. Time Test brought back $3.40 to place and $3.10 to show, while Ballagh Rocks paid $3.80 to show.