Terry Hamilton’s Heart to Heart led every step of the way in Saturday’s 11th running of the $115,300 Commonwealth Turf (Grade III) at Churchill Downs and beat Other Cheek by 3 ¾ lengths to collect his third consecutive stakes victory.
The pocket-sized son of English Channel, ridden by Julien Leparoux and trained by Brian Lynch, ran 1 1/16 miles over a firm Matt Winn Turf Course in a stakes record 1:41.54 to defeat 11 rivals in the year’s final graded stakes race on turf for 3-year-olds in the region. The previous Commonwealth Turf best was Get Stormy’s 1:41.67 in 2009.
Breaking from post positive five, Heart to Heart led field through fractions of :23.60, :47.53 and 1:11.53 with Other Cheek tracking about a length back. Leparoux, who had a snug hold of the reins through the early stages, dropped his hands at the head of the stretch and Heart to Heart accelerated, widened his advantage and drew away for the comfortable win.
"I think one of this horse’s biggest assets is how well he runs the turns,” Lynch said. “He really ran around the first turn smoothly, relaxed down the backside and accelerated into that last turn really well. I think his acceleration in the turns allows him to get an advantage on the other horses and by they straightened up down the lane he was full of confidence. … He certainly loves the two-turns and loves Churchill Downs.”
Heart to Heart, sent to post as the even-money favorite in the field of 12, paid $4, $3.20 and $2.60. Other Cheek, ridden by Florent Geroux, returned $12 and $8.40. Bashart, who rated just behind the pacesetters on the outside with Luis Saez up, was another three-quarters of length back of the runner-up in third and paid $5.
Highball, Hesinfront, Afortable, Wallyanna, Captain Dixie, Woodfield Springs, Shiva Ryan, De Facto and Archway to Heaven completed the order of finish. Stormy Pacific was scratched.
Heart to Heart has thrived for Hamilton and Lynch since August. Before the Commonwealth Turf, the Canadian-bred colt wired foes by three lengths at Saratoga in the $100,000 Better Talk Now on Aug. 20 and won Churchill Downs’ $110,000 Jefferson Cup (GIII) by four on Sept. 27.
The $66,482 winner’s share of the Commonwealth Turf purse pushed Heart to Heart’s bankroll to $329,807. Overall, he’s won five of 12 starts with one second and a pair of thirds in 12 starts.
Heart to Heart, by English Channel out of the Silver Deputy mare Ask the Question, was bred in Ontario, Canada by Red Hawk Ranch.
Lynch said the $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile (GII) for 3-year-olds at one mile on turf at Santa Anita on Dec. 26 is the likely next race for Heart to Heart. After that, he’ll spend the winter at Gulfstream Park and could target the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) on Kentucky Derby Day.
For Lynch, it was his second victory on the day at Churchill Downs. He saddled 3-year-old filly Can’t Use Nellie ($22.20) to an upset win in the second race, a claiming event over seven furlongs.