LEXINGTON, Ky. -- WinStar Farm had the top male turf miler of 2016 after Tourist won the Breeders' Cup Mile last fall, but even with his retirement, the powerhouse stable hasn't skipped a beat in that regard.
American Patriot, skillfully ridden by Javier Castellano under the white WinStar silks, was along in the desperate final yards Friday at Keeneland to nail Heart to Heart in a hotly contested 29th running of the Grade 1, $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile.
"He finished tremendous," Castellano said after American Patriot completed the two-turn mile in 1:34.70 over a firm course. "It was a good setup, a lot of speed in the race."
American Patriot returned $23 when coming off a Feb. 17 allowance victory over the Gulfstream Park turf. The 4-year-old WinStar homebred prevailed in what surely was the best lineup of turf milers assembled in North America since the BC Mile last November.
Before a sun-baked crowd of 24,114, Heart to Heart and jockey Julien Leparoux tracked closely in splits of 23.25 and 47.18 seconds, then put away the front-running What a View approaching the quarter pole to quickly open up on his 10 rivals. Even with 100 yards to go, Heart to Heart, an eight-time graded-stakes winner, appeared destined for his first Grade 1 score, but American Patriot gobbled up ground late to win by a neck.
"He ran a great race," said Leparoux. "I wish he'd won a Grade 1 because he deserves it."
"You can't ask for any more than he gave us today," said Brian Lynch, who trains the 6-year-old Heart to Heart for Terry Hamilton.
Only a half-length separated the top four finishers. Heart to Heart, the 4-1 second choice, held second by a nose over 27-1 shot Conquest Panthera, with Ballagh Rocks (19-1) just another neck back in fourth. Bolo, the lukewarm 7-2 favorite in from Southern California, faded to ninth after stalking the pace.
As a notable aside, the victory was the 51st in a Keeneland stakes for trainer Todd Pletcher, giving him a solo lead in that category over his former boss, D. Wayne Lukas. When the spring meet began April 7, Pletcher trailed Lukas 50-49, but he now has the lead after winning the Grade 3 Beaumont last weekend with Sweet Loretta and the Maker's 46 with American Patriot.
American Patriot, a dark bay colt by War Front, now has won five of 11 career starts. His lone prior stakes triumph came last summer in the Grade 3 Kent at Delaware Park.
"We always felt like he had a lot of potential," Pletcher said afterward by phone from Arkansas. "He was unlucky to not win a Grade 1 last year [the Secretariat at Arlington Park]. He's trained exceptionally well all winter [at Palm Beach Downs in Florida]. He has run well at Keeneland before, so we knew he would like the turf course."
WinStar president Elliott Walden, who watched the race in the second-floor grandstand box area with WinStar owner Kenny Troutt, said the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the May 6 Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill Downs will be considered for American Patriot. Asked whether the colt might be in a position to assume the mantle assumed late last year by Tourist, Walden exclaimed: "We hope so!"
The $2 exacta (3-9) paid $143.20, the $1 trifecta (3-9-6) returned $933.60, and the 10-cent superfecta (3-9-6-10) was worth $1,559.19.
The final Grade 1 race of the 15-day spring meet will be run Saturday with the Jenny Wiley, the last of four stakes on an 11-race card. Keeneland is dark Sunday.
-- additional reporting by Nicole Russo