If you want to find Terry Hamilton you just have to go to Lethbridge’s Rocky Mountain Turf Club racetrack. Chances are excellent that you will find the unassuming thoroughbred owner sitting at the bar and betting on simulcast races at Bullys. Either that or find when and where his superstar Heart to Heart is running.
In the latter case head to the winner’s circle. In 36 career starts Heart to Heart, one of the best horses in the world, has come a winner 15 times - every one of them wire to wire. But until this year, one large obstacle had always somehow eluded him: a Grade 1 victory. Campaigned across North America, the seven-year-old tried to win one seven times. But seven times - many by noses, necks and heads - Heart to Heart came up painfully short.
But then this past winter, it finally happened when he got his long overdue win taking the Gulfstream Park Turf - this time doing what the other had done to him: winning by a neck. “It was such an unbelievable moment,” said Hamilton, 57, who started going to the track in Lethbridge as a youngster with his dad and was immediately smitten. “We’d been trying to win a Grade 1 race for a long time. But then he did it,” Hamilton said of the February 10th race where Heart to Heart held off Kurilov.
“If there was a horse who was deserving of (a grade 1), I feel he was one of them," trainer Brian Lynch was quoted as saying. "To finally get that monkey off his back was a pretty good feeling. It was a hell of a finish there, and I was thinking 'I've been to this BBQ before,’" added Lynch."Then he beared down and stuck his head out and got it done."
Heart to Heart got it done in his next appearance too: winning the Makers 46 Mile at Keeneland, Kentucky by a much more comfortable length and three-quarters. That too was a Grade 1 victory and a race where Hamilton donated part of the earnings to Thoroughbred Charities of America, whose mission is to provide a better life for thoroughbreds, both during and after their racing careers.
Hamilton said that the Makers 46 Mile - even more so than the Gulfstream Park Turf - was the most satisfying. “It’s just so hard to win a Grade 1 at Keeneland. That was incredible.”
It was also vindication. In 2016 Heart to Heart finished second to three-time Grade 1 winner Miss Temple City in the Makers 46 Mile. Last year he led every stride except for the last one when American Patriot caught him in the final jump in the same race. Heart to Heart came close to winning a third straight Grade 1 a few weeks ago at Santa Anita in the Shoemaker Mile but got nailed at the wire by Hunt.
“He sat just off the pace for that race and just missed,” said Hamilton. The second-place finish put Heart to Heart’s career earnings almost exactly at $2 million. “It was a tough loss because it was a Breeders’ Cup Win and You Are In event.”
While it’s still months in the distance, the Breeders’ Cup is where Heart to Heart is being pointed to anyway looking to exact some revenge on last year’s performance. While Heart to Heart finished 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Mile he was only defeated by three lengths total. He had the lead in the stretch despite a wicked early pace confrontation with Midnight Storm and the first quarter going in 22 seconds.
“That really hurt our chances,” said Hamilton. “It was a big time speed duel. Hopefully this year will be different.”
This year’s Breeders’ Cup is at Churchill Downs, Kentucky - a track where, in three starts, Heart to Heart has never lost. “If everything goes on schedule the plan is to race him in the Fourstardave Handicap on Aug. 11 and then the $1-milllion Shadwell in October at Keeneland. Then, hopefully, the Breeders’ Cup. After that he’s probably headed to the breeding shed. We’ve had a few offers from Japan and Australia. But that’s a lot of ‘ifs’ in this business.”
Hamilton bought Heart to Heart at the Canadian Thoroughbred Yearling Sale for $30,000 in 2011. “I liked the sire,” he said of English Channel, a Champion racehorse with earnings of $5.3 million and six Grade 1 wins including the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Turf which he won by seven lengths. “Heart to Heart was a smaller horse which is why I believe is why we were able to get him at that price.”
Finding a name for Heart to Heart was pretty simple. First, there is the heart-shaped blaze on his forehead. Then there was a conversation between Hamilton and Heart to Heart’s original trainer Mike Stidham. “Before we named him, I told Mike that he looked pretty small and Mike said ‘Don’t worry he’s go a lot of heart.’”
He certainly has that. “He’s an incredible horse,” said Hamilton. “A once-in-a-lifetime horse. He never quits, he gives it his all every time.”
Heart to Heart started his career at Woodbine where he exhibited potential but nothing like the prowess he shows now. “As soon as we moved him from the synthetic Tapeta to the grass he was a different horse,” said Hamilton. “Totally different. “We ran him in The Queen’s Plate but he didn’t like the surface. But he loves the grass — winning 11 of his 22 races on that surface."
When Hamilton first ventured into horse racing it was with the standardbreds in Alberta. “That was about 23 years ago. I had harness horses with Travis Umphrey and when he moved down east we sent the horses with him. “But I always liked thoroughbreds,” who started out with trainer, now jockey’s agent, Riley Rycroft.
“I raced them at Northlands, Lethbridge and for a few years at Stampede Park before they closed." Hamilton said he may get back into the game in Alberta. “We’re looking at it. I’d love to have a stakes winner in this province. We’ll see how it transpires but I’m excited about the new track, Century Mile, that they are building near the Edmonton Airport. I think racing will be way better there. I also think Calgary’s Century Downs is going to do well too.”
Hamilton and his father, Don, used to own a building supply house specializing in dry wall. One store, in Lethbridge, soon became five stores until they sold out in 2008. “It was my dad who got me into the game. He brought me to Whoop Up Downs when I was 12 or 13. I loved the sport right away. I’d ride my bike there. I loved the game. And I loved learning how to read the Racing Form.”
Hamilton is hoping there’s another Heart to Heart in his barn but he realistically knows the chances are pretty slim. “I’ve got a couple of young horses we are kind of high on,” Hamilton said of Teryn It Up, named after one of his three daughters, Teryn, and Trish the Dish, named after another of his daughters, Trisha. Hamilton and his wife Toby’s third daughter, Taniell, is still waiting for a promising horse to be named after her.
Teryn recently presented Terry and Toby — who were high school sweethearts in Lethbridge — with a grandson, Brayson. While Teryn was in labour, Terry skyped the running of the Shoemaker to her. “Everybody likes Terry,” said Rose Rossi, general manager of Rocky Mountain Turf Club, who also went to high school with Terry and Toby. “He’s just a wonderful guy. Just a super nice guy. He’s very unassuming. Even a little bashful. He sits quietly at the bar and watches the horses run. When one of his horses are running Bullys — which we call the Best Little Horse House — is usually packed with Terry and Toby’s friends cheering his horses on. And he’s got lots of friends."
“Terry even had Heart to Heart ball caps made up in the royal blue and white colours of his horse’s silks. These days he’s living the dream.”
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