With Approval, the gutsy come-from-behinder whose big victories have been measured in inches, today stands just 95,040 inches away from becoming the biggest success in Canadian thoroughbred history.
Should the roan colt defeat 12 fellow Canadian-bred 3-year-olds and win today's 1 1/2 -mile Breeders' Stakes over Woodbine's Marshall Turf Course, he will pocket $1,199,160 (Canadian) and become the richest Canadian-bred ever, with lifetime earnings of $1,819,700 in just a dozen starts.
The "normal" purse of today's 99th running of the Breeders' Stakes (Post time is about 4:45 p.m. with simulcast wagering at the Fort Erie Race Track; Ch. 5 coverage begins at 4:30.) is $331,933, with $199,160 going to the winner.
But With Approval -- who won the Queen's Plate at Woodbine by a nose and the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie by a head -- stands to gain the extra $1 million bonus put up by the Bank of Montreal for any horse who can sweep the three races, which comprise Canada's Triple Crown.
Woodbine flackery is calling it the second-biggest sports payday in Canadian history, exceeded only by the 1980 boxing match between Roberto Duran (who got $1.5 million in victory) and Sugar Ray Leonard ($7 million, in defeat). Even if With Approval loses, he will get a $250,000 bonus for being the point leader in the series.
With Approval's backers seem to think the money is already in the bank. Even though the King-haven Farms star's last four races have been won by just three heads and a nose, and even though he has raced but once on the turf, he is listed at 3-5 on the morning line and is expected to go off a solid betting favorite.
"He's been training super," said trainer Roger Attfield Saturday. "He's in unbelievably good shape. He couldn't be better."
Attfield, whose Norcliffe missed the Triple Crown by running fifth in the 1976 Breeders' Stakes, said With Approval's preparations were highlighted by a brilliant workout Thursday as he covered 5 furlongs of grass in 59 1/5 seconds under regular jockey Don Seymour.
"We weren't asking him for any speed at all. It was just a conditioning work. But good horses go fast and do it easy anyway. . . . He did it so easily that I couldn't be more delighted with it. It set him right up," Attfield said.
Despite With Approval's dominance of his division, Attfield said he wasn't surprised to see a gateful of opponents entered, including a trio from archrival Sam-Son Farm, which has won the past two Breeders' Stakes.
"A lot of people dream their horses move up on the grass and want to give it a shot," Attfield said.
Attfield also points out that With Approval "also moves up on the turf." In his only grass start, in the first race of his life last October, With Approval won by 2 lengths, the biggest margin of his seven-victory career.
Sam-Son trainer Jim Day, whose troika of Tot of Rum (scheduled to be ridden by Sandy Hawley, provided he recovers from being shaken up in a first-race spill Saturday afternoon), Most Valiant (Jack Lauzon) and Wave Wise (Jim McAleney) is expected to be the second choice in the betting, agrees.
"This is a whole new horse race," Day said. "With Approval's form is very good and it's very established. But he's done it at a mile and a quarter and a mile and three-sixteenths on the dirt. Now we're talking about a mile and a half on the turf. It's just a whole new set of circumstances."
"My horses all have a chance to be very competitive individually, and obviously the connections of the other horses must feel the same way about their horses," he said.
Although all three Sam-Son horses have won on the grass, Day thinks Tot of Rum may have the best chance today.
"I think he'll run a very good race," he said. "I always thought maybe he could be a special horse. He didn't quite get it together on the dirt coming up to the Queen's Plate. (Tot of Rum passed the Plate, but won a grass handicap race the same day.) But his forte will be on the grass and I wouldn't be surprised to see him become a very important grass horse this fall and over the next few years."
Day said he thinks Most Valiant, second by a nose in the Plate and third by 2 lengths in the Prince, has the breeding (his sire is French champion Val de l'Orne) to do well on grass, but has yet to show that he wants to go 1 1/2 miles.
Day said he thought Most Valiant was hampered by a poor ride by Lauzon in the Prince of Wales on July 30.
"He ran a good race, but I didn't think he had the best racing technique in the world. He was five-wide around the first turn in a five-horse race and he came out of the three post. That certainly wasn't perfect. . . . Then he made up ground too quick around the eight pole and got into contention too soon. . . . It was just poor judgement on the jockey's behalf. We talked about it. It was no life-threatening thing. It was just poor judgement to ask him to run that early in the race."
Day's Wave Wise is the only horse in the Breeders' with a turf stakes win under his girth. The gelded son of Smarten won the Cup and Saucer Stakes over 1 1/1 6 miles of grass last September. He also is the top turf money winner with $115,944 in five grassy starts.
The five other Breeders contestants who have won on the turf -- With Approval, Most Valiant, Tot of Rum, Shepody Bay, and Strollaway -- have not been victorious in added-money events on grass.
Of the 13 entrants, only four horses -- With Approval, Stellar Night, Most Valiant, and Loyken -- have ever carried 126 pounds, the burden they all must tote today. Only With Approval has won carrying that much weight, and he has won under 126 three times in a row.
Day trained the recently retired Regal Classic, currently the top-earning Canadian-bred at $1,456,584.
The Canadian Triple Crown began in 1959 and only two horses -- New Providence (1959) and Canebora (1963) -- have won it. (Canebora's three wins were worth a total of $89,050; New Providence earned $69,115.) Four others won the first two legs, but failed in the Breeders' Stakes.