11/26/2015 6:15PM

Heart to Heart wires River City Handicap

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Capitalizing on a race with little speed, Heart to Heart shot straight to the lead in Thursday’s Grade 3, $100,000 River City Handicap at Churchill Downs and maintained a clear advantage in winning by two lengths over Thatcher Street.

When Heart to Heart was able to go to the front under limited pressure with splits of 24.43 seconds and 48.86 in the 1 1/8-mile race on “good” turf, the race was essentially over. He turned back a brief bid from longshot Dac after three quarters in 1:13.55 and, after putting him away, was unchallenged in the stretch.

The winner, a diminutive 4-year-old son of English Channel, finished in 1:52.16, recording his third win on the Churchill Downs turf course after taking the Jefferson Cup and Commonwealth Turf over this course last year. He paid $5.20 as the second favorite in the field of eight.

“I tried to make him relax on the lead, and he did,” said winning jockey Julien Leparoux. “After that, I knew he was going to run his race.”

Disappointing as the 9-10 favorite was Messi, who had won the Grade 3 Knickerbocker last month at Belmont Park. He lacked his customary rally and finished a nonthreatening fifth.

“He didn’t get his feet out of the ground,” said jockey John Velazquez. “It was a little too soft for him.”

Perfect Title rallied to be third, though never a threat to the top two after trailing until the top of the stretch.

Winning trainer Brian Lynch said he would take Heart to Heart to Florida for the winter, though he said Heart to Heart likely will keep a light winter racing schedule. A race such as the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day could be a long-term goal for 2016, he said.