Photo: NYRA, Adam Coglianese
Za Approval delivered as the favorite in the Grade 3, $200,000 Knickerbocker for 3-year-olds and up on Saturday at Belmont Park, giving jockey Joel Rosario his first stakes victory since returning from a fractured bone he suffered in his left foot in August.
Seeking his third graded stakes win of the year, Za Approval kept tabs on Plainview, the free-running pacesetter, while racing in third through a half-mile in 47.43 seconds and three-quarters in 1:10.90. Rosario got to work aboard Za Approval with three-sixteenths to travel, and the 5-year-old gelding quickly shot past Plainview en route to a 1 ¼-length victory. Plainview held second by a neck over Howe Great.
"It was a good trip," said Rosario, who made his comeback on Friday. "This horse tries hard all the time. I rode him twice in Florida this winter; he finished second and he won, so I had confidence in him. I didn't want to rush him too much [early]; they were going a little quick. With this horse, every time you ask him, he keeps giving."
The Knickerbocker was the first start at 1 1/8 miles for Za Approval, who completed the distance over the firm inner turf course in 1:46.51. He returned $5.50 for a $2 win wager.
Za Approval, trained by Christophe Clement for Live Oak Plantation, garnered his first graded stakes in March at Gulfstream Park when he won the Grade 3 Appleton, then added another score in the Grade 3 Red Bank in May at Monmouth Park. He entered the Knickerbocker off a pair of runner-up performances in Grade 1 races, finishing second to Obviously by 3 ¼ lengths in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile in June at Betfair Hollywood Park and to reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan by 3 ½ lengths in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile on September 15.
"When I ran him in Grade 1s, he got beat by two of the best milers in the country," said Clement. "He's been getting better all of his life. He's been a great credit to the Live Oak team and Mrs. [Charlotte] Weber because they have been very patient with him, and it's wonderful when it works out."
Overall, Za Approval is 7-5-0 in 16 starts. The homebred's Knickerbocker victory, worth $120,000, pushed his earnings to $675,345.
Tetradrachm was fourth and was followed home by Swift Warrior, 2011 and 2012 Knickerbocker winner Boisterous, Mr. Commons, and Paris Vegas. Exclusive Strike and London Lane were scratched, as were main-track-only entrants Don Dulce, Percussion, and Praetereo.