Friday, August 13, 2010

So long, Snoopy: Remembering With Approval

The passing of Canadian Triple Crown champion With Approval in June, just weeks before the Queen’s Plate, brought back a flood of memories for those associated with the homebred for the Willmot family’s Kinghaven Farm.

With Approval - Triple Crown Champion

With Approval was known to the racing public as the “Cardiac Kid” due to his trademark thrilling finishes - including four victories in his three-year-old campaign by a head or less - but the galloping grey was known to those that knew him best as “Snoopy”.

“He was always a very inquisitive horse and he'd love to stare around all the time and that's how he got the nickname ‘Snoopy’,” recalled conditioner Roger Attfield. “He was just a very inquisitive horse and the more the years went by the more he got to be that way. To get him from his barn to the paddock we'd have to leave a long time before we needed to because it took forever to walk him to the track. Every hundred yards he’d want to stop and look and if you tried to chase him on he'd get really annoyed.”

As a son of Caro, With Approval was bred to be a champion. The Irish-bred stallion won three Group One races and his memorable progeny include Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Cozzene, multiple G1 winner Dr. Carter and the Kentucky Derby winning filly Winning Colors.

Although the result of the torrid affair between Passing Mood and Caro would eventually prove worthy of his lofty lineage, With Approval would only race twice during his two-year-old season.

“I was always very high on the horse from the middle of the summer on really,” said Attfield. “The interesting thing was that we used to keep all our kindergartners, as I call them, and all our horses coming off of layoffs at a division at Fort Erie. With Approval got loose one morning and ran off the track and ran home and he hit his shoulder going into the barn and it was sore for quite a while. This happened right at the time we were doing nominations for the Coronation Futurity and I didn't nominate him as I didn’t think he had a chance of making that race.”

Snoopy, however, was a quick healer and defied Attfield’s assessment by breaking his maiden months later going seven furlongs on October 9th at Woodbine.

“When he broke his maiden I said in the papers that I'll win the Coronation,” laughed Attfield. “But a friend of mine saw the quote and said to me 'you'll not win that race because you haven’t nominated him’ and that’s when I realized I’d left him out.”

With Approval broke his maiden on October 9th, 1989 - I was there

(Click on the picture to enlarge!)

The Coronation Futurity would be won by Spigot and Snoopy would end his two-year-old campaign with a win over Lordhyexecutioner in the Display Stakes at Greenwood. Typically, With Approval won the race by a head.

An interesting thing happened leading up the 1989 racing season. The Bank of Montreal decided to offer a $1 million bonus to the horse that could win the Triple Crown. The chance of a horse taking the spoils seemed remote as the feat had last been accomplished in 1963 when Canebora won it.

“I was quite convinced that I had the equipment to win the Triple Crown though I knew the first two legs would be a little tougher as he didn't like the dirt,” grinned Attfield, and then noting the pressure he was under. “The Triple Crown hadn't been won for 26 years and there was a million dollar bonus and the Queen Mother was there.”

That their horse didn’t like the dirt created a tricky task for Attfield and jockey Don Seymour as they were soon to learn that With Approval had inherited the stalling tendency of his grandsire Buckpasser.

“He was a very proud horse but very frustrating early in his three-year-old year when Domasca Dan beat him in the Queenston,” stated Kinghaven kingpin David Willmot. “He took the lead at the 3/16 pole and looked like he would win but then he pulled himself up and Domasca Dan beat him. On the dirt he was a tricky horse to ride so Donnie learned very quickly that he had to wait until very late in the race to take the lead with him or he would do what his grandsire did.”

Ever the racing aficionado, Willmot cites the thrilling finish of the 1966 Flamingo Stakes as precedent to Snoopy’s lingering late leads.

“Buckpasser had a notorious habit of pulling himself up when he got the lead,” offered Willmot. “There was Buckpasser’s Flamingo Stakes years ago where he pulled himself up no more than fifty yards from the wire (allowing Abe’s Hope to shoot by) and then Buckpasser put his nose back down, jumped back into gear and won. The Buckpasser was coming out in With Approval and I think manifested itself probably best in the Queenston so we knew in the Plate if he was going to win he’d be putting his head in front very close to the wire.”

Buckpasser captures the 1966 Flamingo Stakes

The Queen’s Plate would play out in front of 32,000 fans including Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and the finish was suitably thrilling. The Sam-Son Farms entry of Wave Wise and Most Valiant set the early pace in front of Domasca Dan. While the leaders enjoyed early position, With Approval had a terrible trip out of the gate while bogged down behind horses on the rail. Down the backstretch Domasca Dan would take over the lead ahead of a chasing Most Valiant. Perhaps the early trouble helped With Approval focus as the horse recovered from his rough beginning and was soon passing horses on the outside as the field travelled through the far turn. Inside a sixteenth of a mile to the wire Domasca Dan had been caught by Most Valiant and With Approval. The pair matched stride for stride the final fifty yards but it was Snoopy, the horse who liked to nose around, that got his nose down first on this day to capture the Guineas.

“I remember that Charlie Whittingham was there in the box next to us as we watched,” recalled Willmot. “Between Most Valiant and With Approval you just couldn’t tell who won, it was that close a finish. Of course, Charlie had seen a few races and while we where there fretting about did he get up and did he win it, Whittingham looked over and said, ‘grey horse won it’!”

A dramatic photo finish as Snoopy noses out a Queen's Plate victory

With Approval would win the Prince of Wales in similarly dramatic fashion lunging a long grey neck out in front at the wire to defeat a hard-trying Domasca Dan and old foe Most Valiant. With the dirt races out of the way, the Kinghaven clan could breathe a sigh of relief.

“Once we got past those two dirt races I couldn't see anyone beating us in the third,” smiled Attfield.

Yet another close call for With Approval in the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie

With Approval would set out to rob the Bank of Montreal of their million dollars against twelve other runners. Once again it was Wave Wise who set the pace crossing over the main track and moving past the grandstand for the first time. With Approval stalked comfortably behind Toledo Salamanca from the hedge in fourth with Tot of Rum on his tail. The field trudged along the backstretch at a meandering pace. Seymour, sitting on a ton of horse, looked for an opening and approaching the far turn found a gap along the hedge and accelerated to the lead. By the quarter pole With Approval was comfortably in front being cheered home by the Woodbine faithful.

Even the three-headed monster entry from Sam-Son Farms could not stop With Approval on this day

"With Approval, he's widening with every stride,” bellowed buoyant track announcer Dan Loiselle. “With Approval has won it. He wins the Breeders Stakes and the Bank of Montreal million dollar triple crown and he certainly stamps himself a champion this afternoon."

Seymour waved his whip in the air as he floated by the wire and as he galloped along the backstretch the jubilant jock, lost in the moment, was still waving the whip.

With Approval wins the Breeders Stakes to complete the Triple Crown

The victory was the crowning achievement of With Approval’s career but his legacy would continue in his four-year old season winning the Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park to set a world record of 2:10.20 for 1 3/8 miles on turf that stands to this day. Retired to stud following the 1990 season, With Approval would go on sire the winners of over 1500 races and purses worth well over $40M.

With Approval sets a world record in the Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park

“I’d sure love to come upon his kind just once more before I hang it up in horse racing,” said Willmot wistfully. “It’s been said so many times that when you’re around horses like that you just don’t appreciate what you’re experiencing because you think you’ll have another one.”

And though Kinghaven would soon go on to enjoy Triple Crown success with another grey horse, Izvestia, it was the nosey little grey named Snoopy who proved to be a reminder that you need to stop every once in a while to smell the roses - and count the Guineas.

* * *

A condensed version of this piece appears in the August edition of Down The Stretch.

I had a lot of fun putting together this little ode to With Approval. Roger Attfield and David Willmot were very generous with their time in speaking with me about the horse they knew and cherished as Snoopy and shared a great deal of their love for the game...and this horse.

It was also a good excuse for me to dig into my stash of horse racing memorabilia and pull out the programs scanned into this post. Isn't it funny that in With Approval's maiden breaking effort on the Woodbine turf he was second-choice on the morning line? Over the next two years, With Approval would go to post as the public's choice in all but two turf events - the 1990 Arlington Million and Breeders' Cup Turf. Snoopy could have, and with a better ride, probably should have won both those races.

I'd also like to point out that the poorly made scratches on the maiden-breaking program pictured above are not mine. Not that I'm saying I cashed a ticket on With Approval that day (okay, I did...and I was only fourteen..shhh) but all my programs are immaculate save for the occasional autograph. No doubt my dad and I arrived at Woodbine late that day and picked up a discarded program. Race 10 of that particular program from October 9, 1988 is signed by jockey Robert Landry over a horse named Airshta. Some twenty-two years later, Landry is still steering horses at Woodbine.

This weekend Woodbine will play host to the With Approval Stakes as Rahy's Attorney and Ice Bear battle nine furlongs on the turf course and on Sunday thirteen horses will contest the Breeders' Stakes to complete the third leg of the Canadian triple crown. Check back over the weekend for more on the Breeders Stakes.

R.I.P Snoopy and thanks for all the great memories!

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