10/12/2013 5:14PM

Belmont: Za Approval catches conditions he likes in Knickerbocker

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Joel Rosario, in his second day back riding after missing seven weeks with a broken foot, guides Za Approval to victory in the Knickerbocker.

ELMONT, N.Y. - When Mother Nature proved kind to trainer Christophe Clement, his 5-year-old gelding Za Approval proved mean to his competition in Saturday’s $200,000 Knickerbocker Stakes at Belmont Park.

When dire predictions of heavy rains proved inaccurate, Za Approval caught the firm turf course he prefers and scored a 1 1/4-length victory over pacesetter Plainview in the Grade 3 Knickerbocker. Plainview held on for second by a neck over Howe Great, who got third by a nose over Tetradrachm. Swift Warrior, Boisterously, Mr. Commons, and Paris Vegas completed the order of finish. London Lane and Exclusive Strike scratched.

In his first try at the distance, Za Approval ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.51, a stakes record for 23 runnings of the Knickerbocker at 1 1/8 miles on turf. He returned $5.50 as the favorite.

The win was the seventh from 16 starts for Za Approval, a son of Ghostzapper and a half-brother to multiple graded stakes winners Miesque’s Approval and Revved Up. All were owned and bred by Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Stud.

It was Za Approval’s fourth win from seven starts this year, adding to early-season victories in the Grade 3 Appleton at Gulfstream and Grade 3 Red Bank at Monmouth. He had twice tried Grade 1 company, finishing second to Obviously in the Shoemaker Mile at Betfair Hollywood Park in June and second to Wise Dan in the Woodbine Mile last month.

In between, Za Approval twice scratched out of graded stakes at Saratoga, due to soft ground.

“If the ground is not firm I won’t run him,” Clement said. “I’ve done that mistake before and I won’t do it again. He’s got such an explosive turn of foot on firm turf and he just can’t get a hold of softer turf, he just can’t.”

In the Knickerbocker, Za Approval, under Joel Rosario, settled into third position while Plainview set fractions of 24.26 seconds for the quarter, 47.43 for the half-mile, and 1:10.90 for six furlongs.

Za Approval swung three wide for the stretch drive, and got past Plainview at the sixteenth pole before edging clear for the victory.

“When I spoke to Joel in the paddock I said there were only two horses with speed and work it out,” said Clement, who won his fifth Knickerbocker. “I guess he did a pretty good job of it.”

Rosario won a stakes in his second day back riding after missing seven weeks due to a broken foot.

“I didn’t want to rush him too much, maybe they were going a little quick,” Rosario said. “This horse, every time you ask him, he just keeps giving it to you.”

Clement said that if Za Approval runs again this year, it would likely be in the Grade 2 Citation Handicap at Betfair Hollywood Park on Nov. 29.