Za Approval looks to rebound in G3 Poker
By Jon Forbes | 05/23/2014 05:24 PM ET
Za Approval, whose three graded stakes wins include a score in the Knickerbocker last fall at this venue, will attempt to regain winning form when he competes in the Grade 3, $300,000 Poker on Monday at Belmont Park.
The Poker, a one-mile turf race for 4-year-olds and up, is one of three stakes on the Memorial Day card, which also includes the $200,000 Pennine Ridge and $100,000 Jersey Girl.
Za Approval, a Live Oak Plantation homebred, became a stakes winner when he captured the 2013 Grade 3 Appleton in March at Gulfstream Park and two months later added a score in the Grade 3 Red Bank at Monmouth Park. After finishing second to Obviously in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile and to Wise Dan in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile, he easily handled seven opponents when he took the Grade 3 Knickerbocker by 1 ¼ lengths in October at Belmont. In his 2013 finale, Za Approval was runner-up to Wise Dan once again, this time in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Mile in November at Santa Anita.
This year, Za Approval has made two starts, finishing fourth in both the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile in March at Santa Anita and in the Grade 1 Maker's 46 Mile on April 11 at Keeneland. He was beaten 1 ¾ lengths in the Kilroe and 6 ¼ lengths in the Maker's 46.
"As long as the ground is not too soft, Za Approval will run [in the Poker]," said trainer Christophe Clement. "He loves it firm. I ran him a little bit unfit in California first time out [in 2014] and he went off form in Kentucky, though I'm not exactly sure why. He came back here and seems to be doing well."
Joel Rosario, aboard Za Approval in the Knickerbocker, Breeders' Cup Mile, and Kilroe, will be back aboard the 6-year-old gelding on Monday. The son of Ghostzapper was installed as the 6-5 morning line favorite and drew post position 6.
Stepping up in class off a pair of optional claiming victories is Peter Blum's Sinatra, who will make his graded stakes debut in the Poker. Sinatra was 1-1-1 in five starts for trainer Dale Romans in 2011 and 2012. Subsequently transferred to Jimmy Jerkens, the Harlan's Holiday gelding returned from a 21-month layoff in an entry-level optional claimer in January at Gulfstream Park, finishing second by a neck. He cleared that condition with a neck triumph one month later at Gulfstream, and then posted a repeat victory when he won a second-level optional claimer in April at Aqueduct Racetrack.
"He's eligible for a 'three-other-than' [allowance], but they're not a whole lot easier than a stakes," said Jerkens.
Sinatra has pressed the pace in his two wins this year, and Jerkens believes his charge will sit behind horses in the Poker, which drew a speedy pair in Plainview and Peace and Justice.
"It depends on how fast the pace is, but I'd rather have him stalk," said Jerkens.
Rajiv Maragh retains the mount aboard Sinatra, who will depart from post 7 at 15-1 on the morning line.
Peace and Justice, tabbed as the 2-1 morning-line second choice, made his first three starts in New York before being sent to California by trainer John Shirreffs for a winter campaign at Santa Anita. He wired an entry-level allowance field by 5 ¼ lengths in January and opened a 10-length lead before holding on to win by a head in an optional claimer in February. He was fifth, beaten 3 ¾ lengths, after setting the pace in his most recent start, the Thunder Road on April 6.
The field also includes Plainview, Big Screen, and the coupled entry of Bio Pro and Jack Milton.
The field for the Grade 3, $300,000 Poker: