by Dustin Fabian
February 8, 2018
The last time we saw World Approval on the track, he was at Del Mar, decimating a Breeders’ Cup Mile field that included regarded European shippers like Ribchester, Roly Poly, Lancaster Bomber and Suedois. He stopped the clock that day in 1:34.55, a relatively ho hum time for a horse that, just six weeks earlier at Woodbine, clocked a mile in 1:33.05. Those victories, combined with scores in Woodbine’s Grade 1 Fourstardave and Pimlico’s Grade 2 Dixie, earned him an Eclipse Award for Champion Turf Male.
This Saturday, World Approval makes his 2018 debut in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. And, to the delight of those looking for a ‘lock’ in the Late Pick 4, nobody in the starting gate should be able to beat him. After all, just three of his rivals exits a victory and just two of his rivals even won a stakes race last year.
The stakes get bigger from here for World Approval. A trip to Dubai for the $5 million Dubai Turf on March 31 is on the docket, while a trip to Royal Ascot in June is also on the table. And with those lofty goals in mind, it’s safe to assume we aren’t going to see a ‘fully cranked’ version of World Approval this time around. Lucky for us, even his B-minus game should be enough to handle this field.
Here’s how I’m tackling the Late Pick 4.
At first glance (and then second and third), this year’s Grade 3 Endeavour goes through two horses – La Coronel and Dona Bruja. And that isn’t exactly a groundbreaking observation. They’re the only two horses in the field with graded stakes wins and they attack the race differently, so bettors are covered no matter how fast – or slow – the pace. La Coronel has gone to the front in her last two starts beneath Jose Lezcano, so I expect similar tactics this time. She’s 5-for-10 on the lawn and won the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes last out at Keeneland, her third stakes win on that course.
On the other end of the spectrum, Dona Bruja is a closer that needs just a bit of pace to run at. People forget that she nearly won the Grade 1 Beverly D at Arlington (she dead-heated for 2nd, beaten just ½-length) and her run last out in Keeneland’s Grade 1 First Lady is the type you can just draw a line through. She was caught way too far behind a dawdling pace and ran well to ‘only’ be beaten 2 ½-lengths. She gets a massive jockey upgrade to North America’s best jockey, Jose Ortiz, and shouldn’t be too far out of it again.
For those with larger bankrolls, Truly Together and Viva Vegas are worth a look. Truly Together is a six-year-old daughter of 2008 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner, Forever Together, with a penchant for winning. She’s 3-for-5 in a career that has been riddled with stops and starts. And Viva Vegas is a cheeky filly with an affinity for this course. She’s 3-for-3 at Tampa and is worth using in your exotic bets.
With a recent list of winners that includes Bluegrass Cat, Any Given Saturday, McCraken and Destin, it’s probably safe to say Saturday’s Sam F. Davis is going to have an impact on the Triple Crown Trail. This year’s field includes last-out Grade 2 Remsen Stakes winner Catholic Boy as well as Todd Pletcher’s up-and-coming Vino Rosso and multiple stakes winner Flameaway.
From a betting perspective, my focus is on a few here. Vino Rosso is as logical as it gets. He’s a perfect 2-for-2, but a low Beyer last out (70) at the track will sour some potential backers. Pletcher has won this race six times since 2006, so he knows what it takes to get the job done here.
Catholic Boy is another to use. As mentioned, he won the Remsen and the runner-up that day, Avery Island, just came back to score in the Withers. He benefitted from a favorable setup that day, however, so he may not be as formidable as he appears on paper.
Hollywood Star and Vouch should be on the radar as well. Hollywood Star was barely beaten in the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill and split the field (6th of 12) in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 36/1. Vouch ran a solid race in the Remsen when 3rd (beaten 6 ½) behind Catholic Boy, but he should get a better setup today and his trainer, Arnaud Delacour, knows how to get winners at Tampa. He’s 11-for-33 here this meet.
I’ll let Flameaway beat me – I can’t get on board with a horse that was 6th, beaten 12-lengths, in his only prior fast dirt track.
World Approval is my pick here. If he loses, my bets do too. And while I'm not saying a loss would be the 'upset of the century,' but it would feel like it at the time.
We’ve got to the last leg and the good news is…we have plenty of bankroll left. Sure, we went very short early in the sequence, but I’m confident and I’d rather up the base amount of the wager instead of adding more horses. Plus, the nightcap is a tough one – no fewer than half of this field can win this race.
Big Awesome is a possible favorite, especially off the claim for Edwin Diaz Jr. Diaz, who primarily runs horses in Puerto Rico, is a remarkable 17-for-20 this year, including 2-of-3 at Tampa.
Mill Hill Prince goes out for top trainer, Gerald Bennett, and had a two-race win streak snapped last out when he stepped up in class to face $10,000 claimers. He’s back down to the $6,250 level Saturday, and should do better.
Malbec was claimed last out and picks up top Tampa rider, Antonio Gallardo, a huge step up in ‘jockey class’ from the last-out jock. He should move forward. And He’s Etain makes the trip from Ohio to Tampa for this race and, if nothing else, he should fancy the change in weather.
Race 9: 2, 7
Race 10: 3, 6
Race 11: 7
Race 12: 2, 3, 8, 10
Ticket Cost ($2 Base): $32.00