10/10/2016 5:46PM

Freshened Heart to Heart takes Knickerbocker Stakes

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Heart to Heart and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. win the Knickerbocker Stakes by half a length Monday.

ELMONT, N.Y. - A fresh and fit Heart to Heart proved dangerous on the lead Monday at Belmont Park, and was able to get away with a pedestrian pace en route to a half-length victory in the Grade 3, $200,000 Knickerbocker Stakes.

Under Irad Ortiz Jr., Heart to Heart was able to maintain a one-length advantage through a half-mile in 51.47 seconds and six furlongs in 1:16.33 over a yielding turf course. He had more than enough left to hold Jay Gatsby at bay late.

Jay Gatsby, the 2-1 favorite, finished second by 2 1/2 lengths over Blacktype, who was followed in order by Mr Maybe, March, Takeover Target, and War Dancer. Can’thelpbelieving and Tale of Fancy scratched.

The win was the 10th in 23 starts for Heart to Heart, a 5-year-old son of English Channel owned by Terry Hamilton and trained by Brian Lynch. He has now won seven graded stakes. The $120,000 first-place purse Monday pushed his career earnings to $930,030.

Heart to Heart was making his first start since June 4, when he finished fourth as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita.

Lynch gave Heart to Heart the summer off, hoping to freshen him up for a fall and winter campaign; the strategy proved fruitful in 2015-16 with three graded stakes victories and a runner-up finish to Miss Temple City in the Maker’s 46 Mile.

The biggest question off the 128-day layoff was the 1 1/8 miles, a distance at which Heart to Heart had a win and a third in two starts.

“Definitely, the question mark was the mile and an eighth distance, but some of his best races are when he’s fresh,” Lynch said. “When you handicapped the race, there wasn’t a lot of speed in it and if they left him alone he would be able to dictate his terms.”

Heart to Heart was stalked through the opening six furlongs by March, who retreated when the real running started. Jay Gatsby, who was getting a nice ground-saving trip under Javier Castellano, tipped to the outside in upper stretch, but couldn’t catch Heart to Heart, who was spotting Jay Gatsby seven pounds.

Heart to Heart covered the 1 1/8 miles over the yielding turf in 1:50.62 and returned $8.90 as the 3-1 second choice.
“He’s got a lot of tactical speed,” Ortiz said. “He sent me to the lead and I tried to slow down. It was soft ground, so I tried to hold it together as long as I could. They brought him ready to run a mile and an eighth today.”

Lynch said he would consider either the $150,000 Artie Schiller Stakes going a mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 19, or the Grade 3, $100,000 River City going 1 1/8 miles at Churchill on Nov. 24 for Heart to Heart’s next start.  Heart to Heart won the River City last year.