World Approval brightens a frustrating meet for Casse

Race Replay: Fourstardave Handicap (5:40)

World Approval gets by Time Test to win the Grade 1, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga on August 12, 2017. (5:40)

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- It had not been a good summer for trainer Mark Casse.

Midway through Saturday's 20th card of the 40-day meet, Casse had won just one race from 46 starters at Saratoga.

But with some help from Mother Nature, frustration turned to jubilation as the barn won twice on the card topped by World Approval's 2 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap at soggy Saratoga.

World Approval, under Manny Franco, rallied three wide in the stretch and outkicked Time Test, the 2-1 favorite, who finished second by one length over Ballagh Rocks. It was 5 1/2 lengths back to Disco Partner, who was followed by the filly Sassy Little Lila and American Patriot.

Rain, accompanied by thunder and lightning, started in Saratoga midway through Saturday's card and changed what had been firm turf -- and which played kind to speed -- to yielding.

World Approval had shown an affinity for less-than-firm ground winning three graded stakes -- including the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth last year -- over ground labeled "good."

While Casse said the rain "didn't hurt my feelings," he noted that World Approval was training exceptionally well going into the Fourstardave.

"I told Mrs. Weber a few times this week he has never been better," said Casse, referring to Charlotte Weber, the owner and breeder of World Approval.

The Fourstardave represented World Approval's first start at a mile on turf. World Approval was coming out of a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Manhattan at 1 1/4 miles.

"We weren't sure what to expect with the cutback," Casse said. "I felt pretty good when he was trying to run over everybody going into the first turn."

Casse wanted World Approval to have a target and Franco, riding the gelding for the first time, was able to get him to settle into third position, about two to three lengths off the pace early on down the backside.

As expected, the filly Sassy Little Lila, under Luis Saez, set the pace, running fractions of 24.64 seconds and 49.86 while being chased by Ballagh Rocks.

Franco moved World Approval closer to the top two around the turn. Ballagh Rocks, under Jose Lezcano collared, Sassy Little Lila at the three-sixteenths pole, but World Approval took command outside the eighth pole and drew clear.

World Approval, a 5-year-old gelding by Northern Afleet, covered the mile in 1:37.65 and returned $12.60 as the third choice in six-horse field. It was his ninth win from 22 career starts.

"He likes a target, when you run him farther he doesn't get a target," Casse said. "[Going] shorter there's more speed and he got a target. It looked like he loved it."

Franco said in reading the past performances he knew World Approval would handle the softish turf.

"I just tried to stay out of trouble and I think that was the key," Franco said.

Two years ago, World Approval won the Grade 3 Saranac Stakes here to help salvage what had been a frustrating Saratoga meet where Casse won 3 races from 42 starters. Perhaps this year, World Approval will help propel Casse to a strong second half of the meet.

"The meet's been frustrating, this was only our third win and we've run [49] horses but of those horses probably only five have run bad," said Casse, who also won a maiden race Saturday with Machtree. "It's frustrating because this is important, this is where I grew up … so I want to do well."

While World Approval relished the rain-soaked turf, Time Test seem to sputter over it according to his rider Javier Castellano.

Castellano saved all the ground on Time Test before spinning him four wide turning for home. Castellano said horse never changed leads in the stretch.

"I tried to help him switch leads and he didn't," Castellano said. "When it was time to go, he didn't give it to me. I think he struggled with the surface."

Brad Cox, the trainer of Sassy Little Lila, who was beaten 9 3/4 lengths, offered a similar excuse for his filly.

"Luis said when he asked her, she was just kind of slipping and sliding a little bit with the turf," Cox said.