World Approval makes Tampa Bay fourth straight triumph

OLDSMAR, Fla. -- World Approval began the defense of his championship as the top turf horse in North America by holding off Forge and winning the Grade 3, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes, the last of four Saturday stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

World Approval, the 1-5 favorite, lagged about six lengths off the pace down the backstretch of the 1 1/16-mile turf race, then made his usual menacing move with about a half-mile to go before surging to the lead in the upper stretch. From there, he was kept to his business with several right-handed whacks from jockey John Velazquez before prevailing by a half-length over Forge, a 12-1 shot, with Fire Away another four lengths back in third in a field of nine older horses.

World Approval, a Live Oak Plantation homebred trained by Mark Casse, is expected to run next in the $6 million Dubai Turf on March 31 at Meydan. The Tampa Bay marks his fourth straight victory, and sixth from his last seven dating to last April, when he commenced a 2017 campaign that was worthy of a divisional Eclipse Award.

The 32nd Tampa Bay was marred by a spill in which jockey Antonio Gallardo came off Doctor Mounty after his mount appeared to clip heels near the quarter-pole. A trailing horse, Cheyenne's Colonel, could not avoid Gallardo and also threw his jockey, Manny Cruz.

Tampa officials reported both jockeys escaped serious injury, with only Cruz being transported to a nearby hospital for further observation. Both horses also appeared to escape serious injury.

World Approval, a gray 6-year-old gelding by Northern Afleet, tipped past the $3 million earnings mark with his 12th victory from 25 career starts. The Florida-bred paid $2.40 after finishing in 1:40.66 over firm going.

The $2 exacta (7-6) paid $11.20, the $1 trifecta (7-6-3) returned $17.20, and the 10-cent superfecta (7-6-3-9) was worth $8.05.