by Brian Bohl
Terry Hamilton's Heart to Heart made a triumphant return to Saratoga Race Course, using a stretch-drive surge to clear away by 1 ¼ lengths in the Grade 2, $250,000 Bernard Baruch for 3-year-olds and up on Monday, Closing Day, at Saratoga Race Course.
Heart to Heart raced to the front on the yielding Mellon turf, going a quarter-mile in 24.27 seconds and the half in 48.01 with Glorious Empire in close pursuit. Out of the far turn, jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. maintained the advantage, using a right-handed whip and outkicking Forge in the stretch to complete 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.45.
"I think we did a good job. He's a free runner so I don't like to wait with him, but he still had some left at the end. "[Trainer] Brian Lynch has done a great job with him," said Ortiz, who notched his 53rd win of the meet, finishing second on the leaderboard behind his brother, Jose, who captured the title. "It's been a great meet. I can't complain about it. I just have to say thanks to all the owners and trainers who helped me. I am just very happy with it."
Heart to Heart improved to 2-for-2 at the Spa, adding to his win in the 2014 Better Talk Now. More than three years later, the 6-year-old son of English Channel finished on the board for the fourth straight time against graded stakes company for Lynch.
"It was great. He got to dictate the terms. I had foreseen [Glorious Empire] putting a lot more pressure on us than he did," Lynch said. "He was ready today and the guys at Belmont, I give full credit to, they have done a great job getting him ready. He is a little horse. He doesn't take a lot of work."
An Ontario-bred, Heart to Heart won for the second time in four starts, adding to his win in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf on March 4 at Gulfstream Park before a runner-up effort in the Grade 1 Maker's 46 Mile, where he lost by a neck to American Patriot. Lynch said he will now target the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile on October 7 at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile in November at Del Mar.
"We will go the Shadwell Mile," Lynch said. "If he runs well, then I think this horse will be very effective at Del Mar with them tight turns. I have always said that I think one of his biggest assets is how he runs the turns. So that would be the end of the year goal for him. If we didn't do that then we have all those races at Gulfstream that he clean sweeps every year. So, we have something to look forward to, anyway."
Off as the 2-1 favorite, Heart to Heart paid $6.60 on a $2 win bet. With 30 career starts to his credit, he increased his bankroll to $1,354,870.
Forge finished 1 ¼ lengths clear of Delta Prince for runner-up honors in his first North American stakes start. The 4-year-old English-bred, who was 1-1-2 in his first six starts overseas, made his first stakes appearance in five starts since shipping over for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
"He ran well. He had a clear shot through the inside and he ran on well. I don't have any complaints," Mott said. "The winner is a good horse and he was able to walk the dog today and no one was able to put any pressure on him early."
Ring Weekend, who set a Mellon course record for 1 1/16 miles in winning last year's Bernard Baruch, was fourth. Projected, Takeover Target and Glorious Empire completed the order of finish. American Patriot was scratched.