Espinoza warms up for Pharoah with front-running win in Oceanport
One race before guiding Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Haskell (G1), jockey Victor Espinoza enjoyed an armchair ride aboard Heart to Heart in the $158,000 Oceanport (G3) on the Monmouth turf.
The 2-1 chance seized control right out of the gate and got away with comfortable fractions of :25.56, :48.46 and 1:11.27 on the firm course. The Brian Lynch trainee delivered the coup de grace turning for home and maintained a 1 1/2-length margin over Hothersal. Heart to Heart negotiated 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.79.
Hothersal deserves special credit for his game pursuit, since he was among those affected by a scrum entering the clubhouse turn. In that incident, the rank Film Making checked, and 6-5 favorite Kharafa had to put on the brakes while simultaneously being forced out. Hothersal was in turn bumped and pushed further out. Kharafa appeared to recover when taking up a staking role, only to fade tamely to last, perhaps feeling the effects of that early trouble.
Cage Fighter, Heart to Heart's nearest pursuer for the first half-mile, held third. Lochte, yet another inconvenienced by the first-turn domino effect, was along for fourth.
Heart to Heart emerged as a notable sophomore turf performer last summer, compiling a three-race winning streak including the Better Talk Now at Saratoga as well as the Jefferson Cup (G3) and Commonwealth Turf (G3) at Churchill. All were accomplished in wire-to-wire style, but he hadn't gotten that set up in his three subsequent losses. The English Channel colt showed just what he's capable of here, and there should be plenty more to come.
Photo courtesy of Taylor Ejdys/Equi-Photo.