03/31/2017 1:32PM

World Approval makes 2017 debut in Florida Cup Turf Classic

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Barbara D. Livingston
World Approval will make his 5-year-old debut Sunday in the Turf Classic at Tampa Bay Downs.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – The annual Florida Cup program signals the gradual winding down of the Tampa Bay Downs meet, which wraps up the day after the Kentucky Derby on May 7. But Grade 1 winner World Approval is just getting started on his 2017 campaign, which likely will include a return trip to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

World Approval will begin his season Sunday in the Turf Classic, one of six $100,000 stakes for Florida-breds on the Florida Cup card. The race will serve as a prep for the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, a race in which World Approval finished second last year, beaten a neck by Divisidero.

The Turf Classic drew a field of seven older horses to go 1 1/8 miles. There are two other turf stakes on the card: the Sophomore Turf, for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, and the Distaff Turf, for fillies and mares ages 3 and up going 1 1/16 miles.

World Approval, a homebred 5-year-old gelding trained by Mark Casse for Live Oak Plantation, had a huge 2016 season, winning the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park, placing in four other graded stakes, and banking $504,713. Sunday’s race will snap his string of six consecutive starts in Grade 1 races and will be his first race since October. World Approval has been training steadily at Palm Meadows for his return.

“He’s been running against the heavy heads, and we gave him a little break, and I just thought this was a nice place to get started,” Casse said. “He’s doing very well. I’m not going to sit here and say that he’s 100 percent [fit], but he’s definitely fit enough and ready enough that he should be the horse to beat, I would think.”

The Turf Classic (race 4) also features Go Around, who won this race last year for trainer Bill Mott and breeder and owner Peter Vegso. The 5-year-old gelding most recently set the pace in the $100,000 Sunshine Millions Turf for Florida-breds at Gulfstream Park in January before finishing fourth, beaten 2 1/4 lengths by Our Way.

◗ The Sophomore Turf (race 8) drew a field of eight, and In Closing should be tough to beat while facing winners for the first time for trainer Christophe Clement and owner Waterford Stable. After a third-place debut sprinting on dirt at Gulfstream in January, In Closing scored by 4 1/2 lengths in a $38,000 maiden special weight race at a mile on the Gulfstream turf. Jose Ortiz visits Tampa and retains the mount.

“He’s a nice horse, he won well at Gulfstream, he’s training well – it’s exciting,” Clement said. “He moved very well on the turf at Gulfstream.”

The field also includes Muggsamatic, who has been pointed to this race by trainer Kathleen O’Connell and owner Gilbert Campbell since rallying to take a one-mile optional claimer on turf here in December. The horse got a brief freshening after that and tested open stakes company in the $75,000 Columbia on the Tampa Bay Derby card on March 11, finishing eighth.

“He’s doing super,” O’Connell said. “I gave him 30 days to freshen him up. It was a tough group [in the Columbia], and he only got beat five lengths. A mile isn’t his best distance – he likes longer than that – so I have high hopes for him. There are a couple of nice horses in there, but I think he’ll run real big.”

Squadron, who beat statebreds in the $100,000 Juvenile Turf at Gulftream Park West in November, will go for the powerful tandem of trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Javier Castellano. Two starts back, the gelding set the pace in the Grade 3 Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream before fading to seventh.

◗ In the Distaff Turf (race 10), give the edge to My Girl Corey, who romped by 4 3/4 lengths in a first-level, $48,000 allowance on the Gulfstream grass March 18 for trainer Chad Brown and owners Long Lake Stable and Head of Plains Partners. The 4-year-old filly has improved her Beyer Speed Figures in all five of her starts, has won three times, and has yet to finish off the board.

The race drew a field of eight, and contention runs deep. Grade 3 stakes winner Family Meeting and Frosty Friday, separated by a neck as the first two finishers in the $100,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf in January, meet again for trainers Tom Proctor and Casse.

Quality Rocks, the winner of the Grade 3 Florida Oaks here in 2015, makes her second start of the year for Mott, and Evidently steps down in class for trainer and owner Roy Lerman after finishing third in the Grade 3 Endeavour and fourth in the Grade 2 Hillsborough here.

Somethingelse steps up from a first-level allowance win at Gulfstream in February for trainer Leo Azpurua Jr., and Castellano retains the mount. Royal Jewely, a stakes winner on dirt who has three turf victories, is a threat to wire the field for leading local trainer Gerald Bennett.