World Approval makes his own luck in Breeders' Cup Mile

DEL MAR, Calif. -- Fourteen horses whipped into the short stretch of the Del Mar turf course, a moving blur flying to the finish of the $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile on Saturday. Several minutes later they'd trotted back home, horses and jockeys meeting grooms, trainers, and owners. Tales of woe abounded: A hard bump, a wide run around the turn, a wall of horses blocking the path to the finish.

World Approval needed no excuse. He broke sharply, put jockey John Velazquez in a good pace-tracking spot, stayed on the bridle and at the ready, awaiting his cue, then burst home to win the Mile by 1 ΒΌ lengths.

Top turf milers can make their own luck -- it's a major part of what elevates them. And by winning his third straight Grade 1 turf mile, there's no doubt World Approval is the top turf miler in North America.

"To win this race you have to be a great horse, and he proved that today," said victorious trainer Mark Casse.

Casse is having a great BC Mile run. Tepin won the 2015 Mile and finished second by a half-length last year at Santa Anita before World Approval came to the fore. Casse believed last year that World Approval was best suited to races at 1 1/8 miles and longer, but during the second half of this year, Casse and World Approval's owner, Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Farm, decided to focus on shorter distances.

"We talked about it, and I told her, 'I don't think he can beat the best horses in the world going a mile and a half, but he might be able to beat them going a mile,'" Casse said. "And so everything we did was to get him ready for this."

World Approval further gilded the legacy of his 25-year-old dam, Win Approval, who is 25, pensioned, and living in a paddock at Live Oak in Ocala, Fla. With World Approval home first on Saturday, Win Approval joined the mare Hasili as the only producer of two winners of the same Breeders' Cup race. Hasili's daughters Banks Hill and Intercontinental won the Filly and Mare Turf in 2001 and 2005, respectively. Win Approval produced Miesque's Approval, winner of the 2006 BC Mile. Her son Za Approval finished second by a half-length to Wise Dan in the 2013 BC Mile.

"To have a foundation mare, it's an honor and a privilege, and Mark has really put the finishing touches on this horse," Weber said.

It was John Velazquez who beat Za Approval with Wise Dan, and World Approval gave Velazquez his third Mile winner after Wise Dan and Da Hoss. Velazquez, waiting in the paddock to get a leg up on his mount, told Casse that if World Approval broke like he had winning the Woodbine Mile, all would be well, and that is exactly what happened.

The two inside-drawn horses, Midnight Storm and Heart to Heart, bolted out of the gate and took the lead, going a fast pace to the quarter (22.30 seconds) and the half (45.65) as the dozen others stacked up behind them. World Approval's nearly white coat was easy to pick out, racing between rivals in the second flight.

"I got a good position, held my position, and from there I was biding my time, waiting to see where I was going to go," Velazquez said. "I split horses at the quarter pole, and he went right on."

Midnight Storm gave out first, and World Approval had dead aim on a tiring Heart to Heart with a furlong out. He made the lead just inside the eighth pole and no one got close to him.

"When you have horses that make the lead and they still give it to you, they make you look good," said Velazquez.

World Approval stopped the timer in 1:34.55 for the mile on firm turf, and paid $7.40 to win as the favorite. He turned Breeders' Cup Saturday around for Casse, whose horses earlier on the card had disappointed.

"We got roughed up a little today, but he's our heavyweight, he's the one we bring in, he's our closer," Casse said. "We knew we were saving the best for last."

This was not the last of World Approval, a 5-year-old gelding by Northern Afleet who will get a winter break at Live Oak before returning for a 6-year-old campaign.

Filling out the exacta, just as in the Woodbine Mile, was the Irish horse Lancaster Bomber, who got a good trip under Seamie Heffernan and ran his third strong race in America.

"Fast ground," said Heffernan. "The key to him is fast ground."

Blackjackcat solidified his position as California's top turf miler this year, making a sharp wide move on the far turn under Kent Desormeaux and sustaining it to finish third, a head out of second.

"We got back a little further than we anticipated, but the fractions were fast," said trainer Mark Glatt. "When Kent called upon him, he took off like a rocket."

Suedois raced closer to the pace than expected and didn't have quite the same kick that won him the Shadwell Turf Mile last out, still finishing well for fourth, a neck behind Blackjackcat and a nose in front of Ribchester.

Ribchester, Europe's top miler this year, ran bravely under William Buick in the final start of his career, but failed to produce his best race just two weeks after working hard to finish second on soft ground in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.

"Two furlongs in I was delighted with where he was," said trainer Richard Fahey. "But as William said, he just didn't handle the turns as well as we'd liked. Am I disappointed he got beat? Yes, I am, but he's been a wonderful, wonderful racehorse for us. He hasn't shirked anything this year, this horse."

Just behind Ribchester was Zelzal, who barreled into the stretch full of run but never found a clear path to the wire. Then came Karar, Om, Ballagh Rocks, Heart to Heart, Roly Poly, Midnight Storm, Mr. Roary, and Home of the Brave.

Several of them could find excuses to suggest they might have done better. World Approval needed none.