Jockey John Velazquez earns record fifth Ricoh Woodbine Mile victory
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TORONTO — There's something about the Ricoh Woodbine Mile that definitely agrees with jockey John Velazquez.
Velazquez rode 2/1 favourite World Approval to an easy 2 1/2-length win in the $800,000 turf race Saturday evening at Woodbine Racetrack. It was a record fifth victory for Velazquez in the event.
"That's awesome," Velazquez said. "I guess this race loves me."
World Approval topped the 12-horse field in 1:33.05 on a firm E.P. Taylor turf course to earn an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Mile on Nov. 4 at Del Mar. And World Approval is on a nice roll, having won two straight races and for the fourth time in five events this year.
World Approval earned Mark Casse — Canada's top trainer the last six straight years — his second straight Mile after winning last year's event with filly Tepin. Casse joins Charles LoPresti as the only conditioners to capture this event in consecutive years.
LoPresti won three straight races (2011-13). The last two came with Velazquez aboard the great Wise Dan, who went on to become American thoroughbred racing's horse of the year both years.
"It's always sweet to win big races but it means more at Woodbine," said Casse, who watched Saturday's race from Florida. "I thought his race was impressive.
"It's not exactly the way he wants to run. I've said all along I think he wants a target but there wasn't a whole lot of speed and Johnny realized that and rode him accordingly."
Velazquez had World Approval sitting second behind Dragon Bay at the half-mile mark. The five-year-old effortlessly took the lead with a quarter-mile to go and ran uncontested to the wire.
Lancaster Bomber was second ahead of Long On Value. The remainder of the field, in order of finish, was: Mondialiste; Arod; Dutch Connection; Conquest Panthera; Tower of Texas; Glenville Gardens; Best Bard; Deauville; and Dragon Bay.
Casse said World Approval will run at the Breeders' Cup so long as he comes out of Saturday's race well.
"As long as he's healthy we are going to the Breeders' Cup," Casse said. "Am I confident we can win? I don't think I would change places with anybody.
"I think he's good right now. He can do anything and we found that the mile is what he wants. We're excited to be going to the Breeders' Cup."
Velazquez earned his first Mile in 2000 with Riviera by a nose over Arkadian Hero. He won again five years later aboard Leroidesanimaux, finishing 7 3/4 lengths ahead of Mobil.
Velazquez rode Wise Dan to a 3 1/4-length win over Hunters Bay in 2012 before guiding his celebrated mount to a 3 1/2-length victory over Za Approval in a course-record time of 1:31.75 the following year.
Velazquez could only chuckle when asked if he'd found himself another Wise Dan.
"I hope so," he said. "He's a very, very nice horse, I'll tell you that."
World Approval captured his 10th win in 23 career starts. The $480,000 winner's share pushed his career earnings over $1.3 million.
World Approval paid $6.70, $3.90 and $3 while Lancaster Bomber returned $5.30 and $4. Long On Value paid $5.30
Jockey Wayne Lordan said Lancaster Bomber might've been helped by more pace in the race but was content with the second-place finish.
"Maybe a stronger pace would've helped but he ran a good, solid race," he said. "He quickened well and got to the line well . . . he finished out good."
Joel Rosario, the jockey aboard Long On Value, said his horse had no racing luck.
"In the end, I never got through and had to point towards the outside and he lost momentum," Rosario said. "He ran a very impressive race."
Also on Saturday's card, Luis Contreras rode 9/1 longshot Johnny Bear, to a stirring upset win in the Grade 1 $300,000 Northern Dancer. The Ontario-bred horse nipped 3/5 favourite Hawkbill by a head to capture the 1 1/2-mile turf race in 2:28.34 for his first graded stakes title. Messi was third.
And Quidura, the English-bred 2/5 favourite, captured the $250,000 Grade II Canadian Stakes, winning the 1 1/8-mile turf event in 1:45.26. Elysea's World finished second ahead of Starship Jubilee.