by Brian Bohl
Terry Hamilton's Heart to Heart will look to take the next step in a potential Breeders' Cup trajectory in competing against eight others in the 58th running of the Grade 2, $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap for 3-year-olds and up on Monday, Closing Day, at Saratoga Race Course.
Heart to Heart will be making his first appearance at the Spa since winning the 2014 Better Talk Now. The 6-year-old, who is the field's most experienced entrant in making his 30th career start, has recorded triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in his last four races, including a 104 for a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on June 3 at Santa Anita Park.
Trainer Brian Lynch said he wants Heart to Heart, who was the runner-up by a neck to American Patriot in the Grade 1 Maker's 46 Mile on April 14, to use the Bernard Baruch as a stepping stone to the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile on October 7, which is a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile in November.
"He's been down at Belmont and all reports are that he's been training well, so I wanted to get a race in him before the Shadwell Mile. It seems to be the ideal spot and ideal timing," Lynch said.
Heart to Heart has three wins in four starts at the Bernard Baruch distance of 1 1/16 miles and will look to be the pacesetter while breaking from the rail with Irad Ortiz, Jr. with the co-highweight of 120 pounds.
"He's a dangerous horse if he gets left alone on the lead," Lynch said. "Provided we don't get a lot of rain here between now and Monday and it stays fast and firm, that's where he's most effective. He's coming off a layoff and he's been working on the dirt. Hopefully, he's ready and we get a good performance out of him."
WinStar Farm's American Patriot earned a career-high 101 Beyer for his come-from-behind win in the Maker's 46 Mile in which he rallied from eighth. Following that effort, American Patriot shipped to England, where he finished 11th in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.
In his state-side return, the 4-year-old son of War Front couldn't overcome a poor start over a yielding track, finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Fourstardave on August 12 at the Spa.
"He's doing well. He didn't handle the soft course at all and didn't break well and never got on track," trainer Todd Pletcher. "We'll hope the ground is firmer on Monday for him."
Luis Saez will have call from post 5. American Patriot will also carry 120 pounds.
"Distance is not an issue, we just need firm ground," Pletcher said. "Based on what [jockey] Johnny [Velazquez] said, even at the start, the ground just broke away from him. A couple of strides into it, you could tell he just hated the course. It's just unfortunate we got that heavy rain right before the rain. Fortunately, he came out of it well and we'll try again."
Ring Weekend will return to graded stakes company looking to repeat as the winner in the Bernard Baruch in a Saratoga record-setting time of 1:38.29 for 1 1/16 miles on the Mellon turf.
The 6-year-old son of Tapit dropped down in class after a wide trip and a 10th-place showing in the Grade 2 Dixie on May 20 at Pimlico. After a runner-up performance against optional claimers on June 15, the Graham Motion trainee was fifth in the Fasig-Tipton Lure.
Ring Weekend is seeking his first win since the 2016 Grade 2 Seabiscuit Handicap, drawing post 4 with jockey Jose Ortiz aboard.
Juddmonte Farms' Projected has been a runner-up three consecutive times for trainer Chad Brown entering the weekend, finishing one-length behind Zennor last out in the Lure on August 5. Since arriving from France, where the English-bred raced exclusively for his first 11 career starts, the 5-year-old is 1-3-0 in five starts, including second-place efforts in the Grade 2 Dixie and Grade 3 Poker.
Florent Geroux will be in the irons from the outside post.
Projected's stablemate Takeover Target earned black type in the Fasig-Tipton Lure last out on August 5. The third-place finish was first Saratoga appearance for the 5-year-old since running seventh in last year's edition of Bernard Baruch.
Takeover Target, owned by Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence, drew post 2 with Joel Rosario.
Highland Sky will make his 2017 stakes debut, cutting back in distance after a six-wide trip and a seventh-place finish against optional claiming company at 1 3/8 miles on Saratoga's Opening Day, July 21.
The 4-year-old son of Sky Mesa will make his first graded stakes start since finishing second by a neck to Deauville in the 2016 Grade 1 Belmont Derby.
"We're going to try shortening him up a little and see if that helps him," trainer Barclay Tagg said. "He's been taken off the pace in all of his races and he'll be taken off the pace in this one, because they'll be faster in front of him."
Rajiv Maragh will ride from post 8.
Delta Prince will stretch out in distance after capitalizing on class relief in an optional claimer win on August 5. Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, Delta Prince was second in the Grade 3 Appleton in his stakes debut, finishing a half-length behind All Included on April 1.
Delta Prince will make his first start at more than a mile, drawing post 3 in tandem with Velazquez, a Hall of Fame inductee.
Forge, trained by fellow Hall of Famer Bill Mott, will make his first stakes appearance in North American. The English bred 4-year-old will leave post 6 under Manny Franco.
Glorious Empire, trained by Carlos Martin will round out the field, drawing post 7 in his first graded stakes start. Jockey Jose Lezcano will ride.