Put up a million dollar bonus, it seems, and the highly unlikely will quickly become probable. Canada’s Triple Crown had not been won since 1963, but along came the Bank of Montreal earlier this year to dangle a million-dollar bonus and, sure enough, along came With Approval to end the Triple Crown drought.
Kinghaven Farms’ roan homebred strolled to a 71/2-length victory in the Breeders’ Stakes at Woodbine in Toronto on Aug. 20. He had set himself up for the huge payday by recording narrow victories in the Queen’s Plate (Can-IR) at Woodbine on July 10 and Prince of Wales Stakes (Can-IR) at Fort Erie Racetrack July 31.
This was a triumph painted by some as one of Canada’s all-time great bank robberies, but it was actually a group of Lloyd’s of London insurance underwriters which had to come up with the $1 million (Canadian Funds). The Ontario Jockey Club and Bank of Montreal, which received a flood of attention for the first year of its Triple Crown sponsorship, spent $100,000 to ensure the inaugural bonus. Because there was a claim, the partnership had to pay another $50,000 in premiums, essentially the deductible.
The Lloyd’s people have not had much luck with this type of venture during the past six years. The Ontario Jockey Club, New York Racing Association, and Laurel Race Course joined forces in 1983 to create a triple out of Woodbine’s Rothmans International (G1T), Aqueduct’s Turf Classic (G1T), and Laurel’s Washington, D.C. International (G1T). It was supposed to be a near-impossible task, or at least that’s what a Lloyd’s group must have thought when they accepted the $1-million risk for a premium of only $16,500. They watched with horror as All Along waltzed through the series with ease, and that was the end of the $1-million bonus for the turf series.
NYRA itself arranged for a $1-million enticement for its old fall championship: The Woodward Stakes (G1), the Marlboro Cup (G1), and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). Slew o’ Gold swept the three races in 1984, and the bonus was dropped when insurance premiums skyrocketed.
Then, too, there was the $2-million Garden State bonus of 1985 which led to the still-to-be-captured $5-million payoff for winning the United States Triple Crown today. Spend a Buck accomplished what had seemed highly improbable when he marched through the 1985 Cherry Hill Mile, Garden State Stakes, Kentucky Derby (G1), and Jersey Derby. That was another bonus that died a quick death.
Premiums for the Bank of Montreal Triple Crown are due to go as high as $470,000 Canadian for next year; insurance people might no longer want to hear how difficult it is to win Canada’s Triple Crown. In the immediate aftermath of the victory, however, bank chairman William Mulholland said he had every intent of continuing to offer the bonus.
The series had gained its reputation for difficulty slowly since the three races were designated officially the Triple Crown. As with many legends, however, there are other factors. New Providence won the inaugural crown and Canebora followed up four years later, but those two Windfields Farm colts were the only Queen’s Plate winners during the Crown’s first eight years to even enter the Prince of Wales.
Also, Canada’s Triple Crown of the late 1980s is much different than its cousin of 20 years ago. The three races now are spaced just six weeks apart, instead of 16 weeks. The Prince of Wales is now at 1 3/16 miles on the dirt instead of a mile-and-a-half on what was usually a soggy Fort Erie grass course.
The fact that the Breeders’ is still on the grass helped With Approval. Turf is a surface where he might have an intriguing future. The son of Caro employs a lazy running style on the main track and rarely seems to be fully extendng himself. Five of his eight career victories have come by either a head or a nose.
As trainer Roger Attfield predicted, however, it was a different story on grass. With Approval ran with Breeders’ runner-up Most Valiant and third-place finisher Toledo Salamanca on the final turn, but he quickly left them. There was no laziness here: With Approval looked sleek and efficient on the grass, sprinting the final quarter-mile in :24 1/5 to post an impressive final time of 2:29.
“I stuck my neck out all week with my predictions, and I don’t usually do that,” trainer Attfield said. “But I was just so confident. This horse broke his maiden on the grass last year, and he did it like a good horse would do it.
“I could foresee him going to the lead any time he wanted today. I was happy he started from the three hole, and I really never had an anxious moment.”
With Approval’s Kinghaven roots trace back more than 20 years, to one of Bud Willmot’s first racing ventures. Cool Mood, a member of Northern Dancer’s first crop, carried Willmot’s blue and white silks to victory in the 1969 Canadian Oaks. Cool Mood’s daughter and With Approval’s dam, Passing Mood, won a small Woodbine stakes as a 2-year-old in 1976.
With Approval was the 3-5 favorite for the Breeders’, which attracted a field of 13. Only Sam-Son Farm stablemates Wave Wise and Most Valiant had any real stakes experience, so it just seemed a matter of With Approval’s jockey, Don Seymour, staying out of trouble. He did that well enough, sitting close to the pace early and moving to the leaders a half-mile out.
“It was even easier than I imagined it would be,” said Seymour, who becomes Canada’s first Triple Crown-winning jockey. (New Providence and Canabora each had two riders during their Triple Crown sweeps.) “This today was certainly easier than the Plate or Prince of Wales. I didn’t think we’d win by that wide a margin. I was thinking maybe two or three lengths. It really hasn’t hit me yet, but I know it’s the highlight of my racing career.”
The Triple Crown payoff–there was also a $199,160 first prize for winning the Breeders’–moved With Approval comfortably into the top spot among Canadian-breds with official career earnings of $1,819,700.
There is little among Canadian-bred races left for With Approval to conquer. So, the next step will likely be to challenge open company. He took a shot at Awe Inspiring in the Flamingo Stakes (G1) in early April, but washed out badly in the paddock and in the post parade and was later found to be nursing a mild infection.
Conveniently, Attfield can at least partially discover his colt’s level of ability by staying home. Woodbine offers the Molson Export Million at 1 1/4 miles on the dirt on Sept. 10 and the $900,000 Rothmans International (GT) at 1 1/2 miles on the grass on Oct. 22. A long-range plan for With Approval includes the $2-million Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1T) on Nov. 4 at Gulfstream Park.
“When it comes to better races with better horses, we’ll want this horse to be on the grass, because that’s obviously where he’s better,” Attfield said. “He’s obviously not too shabby on dirt, though, so we have to keep that in mind. We’ll see how he comes out of this race, and we’ll see how the Molson Export Million shapes up, just who’s going to come for it. Then we’ll decide how to follow all of this up.”