Za Approval and Summer Front shared a shedrow for four seasons, a convenient arrangement considering they were also unified in their bit of angst.
Both turf warriors have done right by their respective connections, racking up multiple graded stakes wins and compiling bankrolls that sit over seven figures.
The sticking point for each has been their collective hard luck in Grade I races with Summer Front sporting an 0-for-9 mark against top-level company and Za Approval winless in six Grade I tries.
With their shared nemesis on the sideline and Za Approval now taking up residence in a different barn, the two old comrades will now have to go through each other in their latest tries at getting over the Grade I hump.
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Something will give for the seven entrants in Friday's Grade I, $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland as all are seeking their first career top-level victories. The opportunity is especially ripe as two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan, who won the Maker's in 2013 and 2014, will miss Friday's race as he continues to recover from an ankle injury.
Count Za Approval in particular among those who wish Wise Dan a good and lengthy recovery.
Previously trained by Christophe Clement before moving to the barn of Mark Casse this year, Live Oak Plantation's Za Approval finished second to Wise Dan in both the 2013 Grade I Woodbine Mile and that year's Breeders' Cup Mile, the latter race being beaten by only three-quarters of a length.
The 7-year-old Ghostzapper gelding was also fourth in last year's Maker's 46 Mile behind his champion rival and comes into this year's race with three starts already for his new trainer, the most recent being a fourth-place finish in the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes at Santa Anita Park on March 7.
"He's getting a little older and he's still a really talented horse, but I think for him to win he needs things to go his way or at least not go against him," Casse said. "He's just been very unlucky in his last few starts; he's drawn the outside posts. We're just hoping for a trip where we don't have to come wide around everybody. He's training extremely well."
Being in post No. 6 in a seven-horse field should eliminate traffic problems for Za Approval. Going by his old stablemate Summer Front will be a different challenge.
Deemed the 8-5 favorite on the morning line for the Maker's 46 Mile, Summer Front has been second in three of his last four races — all in Grade I company — for trainer Clement.
Like Za Approval, Summer Front made his most recent start in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile and looked a winner when he struck the front at the head of the lane only to have Ring Weekend kick by for a 1-length victory. Though the 6-year-old son of War Front would prefer firmer ground than what will probably be offered at Keeneland because of rain in the forecast, his connections say he can still kick with some cut in the ground.
"As long as (the Keeneland turf) drains the way it did last weekend, we should be pretty good," said Lee Vickers, assistant to Clement. "This horse has been unlucky two or three times so he should have had a couple (Grade I wins) by now in the bag. Without Wise Dan, hopefully he can get it here. He's training perfect, he looks great. He ran a brilliant race in California."
Za Approval also prefers firmer ground and Casse said that "it's a possibility" he could scratch if the turf comes up too soft Friday.
One of the biggest threats to extend the streaks of Grade I futility for Za Approval and Summer Front is Bill Mott-trainee Long On Value, stylish winner of the Grade III Canadian Turf Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 21.
Za Approval and Summer Front stand as the most accomplished horses in the field on paper. With some luck, one will emerge Friday with a new high point.
"He's an old pro. He tells us what to do, we don't tell him what to do," Casse said of Za Approval. "I think if you dropped his webbing (on his stall) and put his bridle on, he would probably go to the paddock on his own. He's just class."