01/05/2018 12:56PM

2017 Eclipse Awards: World Approval

Barbara D. Livingston
World Approval

It’s an admirable approach, trainer Mark Casse’s orientation toward “what-if” questions.

What if, for instance, World Approval had during the summer of 2016 honed in on turf races at one mile or, at most, 1 1/8 miles?

Not really worth thinking about, according to Casse.

“I don’t look in the rearview mirror,” Casse said. “I’ve said a million times that training horses is like putting puzzles together: You try the pieces until you find one that fits.”

It was when World Approval’s connections turned the gelding back in distance midway through 2017 that all the pieces interlocked and the full portrait of the horse could truly be seen. Look back over what World Approval accomplished during the year, and there is reason for Casse and owner and breeder Charlotte Weber to look forward to a possible Eclipse Award for champion male turf horse.

World Approval raced six times during the year and won five. He won the Florida-bred Turf Classic at Tampa Bay Downs to launch his campaign and was a sharp winner over second-tier competition in the Dixie Stakes at Pimlico. Then came his lone loss during 2017, in the Manhattan Stakes on the Belmont Stakes card, and because of that one step back, World Approval took several forward.

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The Manhattan is a 1 1/4-mile race, and World Approval set the pace and faded to fifth. Ever since World Approval had won the 1 3/8-mile Grade 1 United Nations in 2016, Casse had him pegged as a horse who needed something more than nine furlongs for his best.

After the Manhattan, Casse went in the other direction, turning him back to one-mile races. It made sense. World Approval had looked sharp in the 1 1/16-mile Dixie as well as in earlier middle-distance starts. Then there is the pedigree. By Northern Afleet, World Approval was produced by the great broodmare Win Approval, whose son Miesque’s Approval won an Eclipse in 2006 on the back of a Breeders’ Cup Mile win. Another brother, Za Approval, finished second in the 2013 BC Mile.

World Approval, racing over a yielding Saratoga course on Aug. 12, stalked the pace well in hand, took over in upper stretch, and won the one-mile Grade 1 Fourstardave by more than two lengths. He ran his second half-mile about two seconds faster than his first, while leaving the high-class Time Test reeling.

Then it was on to the Woodbine Mile, a “show-me” sort of race where World Approval needed to validate his Fourstardave. And did. Racing on the lead, pushing hard through strong middle fractions, World Approval still ran his last quarter in about 22.80 seconds and won by 2 1/2 lengths over Lancaster Bomber.

Casse had seen enough – enough to sit back and wait for the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Del Mar. In a crowded paddock before the race, Casse and Weber smiled and chatted, and when the gate sprang open, World Approval showed why they were so relaxed. He perched comfortably just far enough behind a fast pace not to become enervated but close enough to avoid the mad scrum of a 14-horse field on a tight-turning course.

A lot of horses in the BC Mile had real excuses. World Approval needed none. He and John Velazquez burst to the lead in midstretch and bolted for the wire.

Suffice it to say, there was no looking back.