HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- After seven frustrating attempts that included several heartbreaking near-misses, Heart to Heart finally got his first career Grade 1 victory after holding off a late bid from Kurilov to register a neck decision in Saturday's $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf.
With his regular rider Julien Leparoux back in the saddle following a disastrous trip as the odds-on favorite here last month in the Grade 2 Ft. Lauderdale, Heart to Heart went right to the lead, as expected, from his inside post. Heart to Heart was allowed to set a temperate pace, posting splits of :24.15 seconds, 48.74, and 1:12.08 for the opening six furlongs. He shook loose from his early pursuer One Go All Go on settling into the stretch, then held off Kurilov under vigorous handling by Leparoux.
Kurilov, making just his third start in this country and first on the turf, raced within easy striking distance of the leader while saving ground to the stretch, tipped out for the final run, finished with good energy but was not quite good enough. Hi Happy rallied mildly to finish third, another three parts of a length behind Kurilov.
Heart to Heart, who finished second in both the Grade 1 Makers Mark Mile and Shadwell Turf Mile as well as third in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile last season, is a son of English Channel owned by Terry Hamilton and trained by Brian Lynch. He completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.64 over a firm course and paid $7.20 as the tepid favorite in a field of eight older turf specialists.
"Watching him come back in (to the winner's circle) and blow as hard as he did, you know he gave it his all today," Lynch said. "To be so close so many times in Grade 1 races and then to have him get it here today was great. It's great for the morale of the barn and great for the morale of the Hamiltons as well."
Lynch said he was obviously a bit concerned after Heart to Heart hopped at the start and ran so poorly four weeks earlier in the Ft. Lauderdale.
"When they throw craps at you like that, it's always in the back of your mind it could happen again or that maybe he's not trying to go in the right direction, although everything since the race indicated to just put a pencil through it, load him up again, and let him do his thing," Lynch said.
"We'll give him a rest now and go to the Maker's Mile, although as I've been saying, I think I'm going to try to stretch him out a little bit farther this year. I think he might be a little vulnerable at a mile, they all get to take a little shot at him at a mile. But at a mile and one eighth and farther, if they do give him a breather, like they did today, that's when he's really dangerous."