REXDALE, Ont. – Trainer Mark Casse might want to make a habit of missing out attending the Woodbine Mile.
It was the second consecutive year Casse was not in attendance at the race and came out the winner. Last year, Casse faced weather issues and missed his flight to Pearson Airport in Toronto, while super filly Tepin captured one of Woodbine’s signature races.
This year Casse decided to stay behind in Lexington as the Keeneland September sales are in progress, in addition to having horses running all over the continent. “I’m at Keeneland looking for the next Woodbine Mile winner,” Casse joked by cellphone after the race.
Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez rode World Approval to victory on the famous E.P. Taylor turf course once he secured the lead on the far turn. He never weathered a challenge from the 11 other horses, cruising home to a 2 1/2-length win and a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Del Mar.
The winner completed the mile trek in 1:33.05 on a turf course that was rated firm on an absolutely glorious day at Woodbine Racetrack.
World Approval returned $6.70 to his backers for the win, $3.90 to place and $3 for the show. Second-place finisher Lancaster Bomber returned $5.30 for the placing and $4 for the show. The European 3-year-old completed a $2 Post Time Exacta for $42. Long On Value finished third and paid $5.30 to show.
It was the fifth Woodbine Mile win in 8 career starts for Velazquez, who was riding World Approval for the first time.
He used his own handicapping skills to determine that if no one goes with him he could have his own way in the race. “The more I read the Form, the more I looked at the horses, no one seemed to want to be on the lead. So I held the whole group all the way into the middle of the track to see if anybody wanted to take the lead and no one went,” said Velazquez.
A former winner of the United Nations at Monmouth at 1 3/8-mile, World Approval seems to have found his wheelhouse at the mile distance. He followed up his win in the Fourstardave Handicap with his second straight win at the distance.
“I think he loved the mile, I think this is what he wants to do,” said Johnny V. “The way he ran today was very impressive.”
Casse was quick to praise his jockey via conference call for realizing the ride that the pace called for. Since the Fourstardave, Casse has preached that the son of Northern Afleet likes to run at a target before making his move.
“When no one went with him, Johnny realized the situation and rode him perfectly,” said Casse. The multiple Sovereign Award-winning trainer will point World Approval to the Breeders’ Cup Mile after securing the “Win and You’re In” victory.
Second-place finisher Lancaster Bomber, receiving a healthy 12-pound weight break from the winner, started his run while ninth at the quarter pole. He started picking off horses but just couldn’t get to the winner.
He was attempting to become the first 3-year-old to win the Woodbine Mile and made an impressive showing against older horses shipping in from the United Kingdom for the race. He was second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and we’ll likely see him at Del Mar for his next start.
Jockey Wayne Lordan was satisfied with Lancaster Bomber’s race and lamented the lack of pace as a barrier for having a realistic chance to reach the wire first.
“I thought the race was run really steady for my horse. He quickened well and got to the line well,” said Lordan. “Maybe a stronger pace might have helped, but he ran a good solid race.”
Keep an eye on the son of War Front, whose sire has had tremendous success with turf milers. While he’s only won one of his 12 career races, he’s been running against the likes of Churchill in Europe.
Earlier in the day, the inside was the place to be on the turf and it was no different in the feature race. Jockey Joel Rosario aboard third-place finisher Long On Value, who went off at nearly 10-1, got caught outside which sunk his chances to catch the winner.
“When turning for home I was caught on the outside, not where I wanted to be. I caught a little traffic and I had to come around and that cost me some momentum,” said Rosario. “The horse that won the race was in the inside, and he was in a better spot than I was. Everyone was inside so I had to go around.”
It came down to a Hall of Fame-type ride from Velazquez and good karma from the no-show trainer.
Velazquez joked afterwards that Casse gave him “no instructions” heading into the race and that he should “just go out and win,” eliciting laughter from the press corps.
Casse obviously found the right recipe for winning the Mile in back-to-back fashion, and you can bet he won’t show up next year.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.