Trainer Jonathan Sheppard and owner George Strawbridge Jr. have been together, well, forever. Forty-two years strong, they will try to win their first Breeders’ Cup race as a team with the aptly named Forever Together in the $2 million Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Oct. 24.
Strawbridge, who campaigns his runners in the familiar green and white silks of Augustin Stable, won the 1994 Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) with homebred Tikkanen, who was based in Europe with trainer Jonathan Pease.
Forever Together, a 4-year-old daughter of Belong to Me bred by White Fox Farm, is an anomaly for Strawbridge, whose racing stock is usually comprised of homebreds. Forever Together, out of the Relaunch mare Constant Companion, was bought by Strawbridge for $240,000 at an Ocala Breeders’ Sale Co. 2-year-olds in training sale.
Sheppard, 67, said Strawbridge, 71, became intrigued with the workings of EQB Management. Headed by its founder, Jeffrey Seder, and his associate, Patti Miller, the company uses various techniques to identify talent at Thoroughbreds auctions. One of the horses earmarked by EQB was Forever Together.
“(Strawbridge) is kind of an admirer of EQB,” Sheppard said. “They have all these ways of picking out horses: size of the heart; different measurements; and most strongly of all is the gait analysis. They go to all the 2-year-old in training sales, and they get the videos of them breezing and they break it down in slow motion. They believe they can figure out at what speed a horse begins to lose their efficiency in their stride. To be perfectly honest, I thought it was a bunch of hot air.”
Sheppard has more faith in EQB’s concept now.
“We have had three fillies (on the recommendation of EQB),” Sheppard said. “The first one was extremely fast; she won but we couldn’t keep her sound. The next one was (Forever Together). Then last year they sent us this filly, called Informed Decision, who has won five of seven starts, including a grade II at Keeneland (Lexus Raven Run Oct. 18) while breaking a track record.”
Sheppard, whose outstanding work with steeplechase runners earned him an induction to the Hall of Fame in 1990, also has a very solid reputation as a conditioner on the flat, particularly with turf horses. Storm Cat, the prolific sire, and With Anticipation, were grade I winners trained by Sheppard.
Sheppard has had his hands full with Forever Together. The quirky filly had issues with not sweating, so Sheppard started feeding her Guinness Beer because he said it helps to promote perspiration—an added bonus is that she likes the taste and therefore cleans up her feed. He and his staff learned to be patient with the filly when she starting balking in her training; actually stopping in her tracks in mid-gallop. When her form went off on the dirt because she resented the kickback of the surface in her face, Sheppard switched her to the turf. Suffice to say, Forever Together has been a work in progress.
Since making the change to the grass in May, Forever Together has won three of five starts including the Diana (gr. IT) at Saratoga and First Lady (gr. IT) at Keeneland.
“She just seems to completely have turned around,” Sheppard said. “She’s happier; she’s moving better. It’s hard to put your finger on one thing. It’s probably a combination of things.”