Forever Together became the fifth horse to win the prestigious Diana Stakes (gr. IT) (VIDEO) in back-to-back seasons when she burst past her rivals on the outside in the stretch and nipped Carribean Sunset by a head Aug. 1 at Saratoga Race Course.
The Augustin Stables-owned 5-year-old mare joined Glowing Honor (1988-89), Shuvee (1970-71), Tempted (1959-60) and Miss Grillo (1946-47) as the only repeat winners of the Diana in 71 renewals. She scored the fourth grade I win of her career for trainer Jonathan Sheppard.
Julien Leparoux guided the daughter of Belong to Me to victory as the 9-10 favorite in a field of 10. Forever Together, circling the field on the outside after being held in reserve behind a good pace in the 1 1/8-mile event, had six to beat in upper stretch.
The long-limbed gray swept past impressively to hook up with Carribean Sunset in deep stretch. Carribean Sunset, who enjoyed a ground-saving trip with Ramon Dominguez, had first run on Forever Together when she angled out slightly mid-stretch to split pacesetter Quiet Meadow and Criticism. But she could not hold off the winner while fighting back valiantly along the inside in the final strides.
Rutherienne, with Alan Garcia aboard, finished up well to get the show spot, three parts of a length behind the top two. The final time was 1:48.21 on a course rated 'good.'
In last year's Diana, Forever Together rallied from 15 lengths behind to get up by three-quarters of a length over Dynaforce, with Rutherienne third.
George Strawbridge’s mare followed that victory with wins in Keenland's First Lady (gr. IT) and the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), resulting in her winning the nation's Eclipse Award as the leading turf female performer. She began her 2009 campaign with a victory in the Jenny Wiley (gr. IIT) on a good course at Keeneland in April, then rallied for second in Belmont Park's Just A Game (gr. IT) in a troubled trip on yielding ground June 6.
“To keep running that well at that level – it takes a tremendous horse to do that. It’s just fantastic," Sheppard said. "She’s a pleasure to train and Julien did a great job. I was a little concerned they were being strung out more than I expected, but Julien did start to ease up in a nice striking position around the turn. She was loafing a little bit and the filly on the inside (Carribean Sunset) finished rather gamely. Keeping in mind (Forever Together) hadn’t run in a while and giving weight to the other horses, it was an outstanding performance.”
Leparoux has ridden Forever Together in all of her races since last year's Diana.
“She’s an amazing mare," he said. "She relaxed good and I had a good trip all the way around. She had the same closing kick she had last year in this race, too. This was a good group of fillies and she beat them again. She’s awesome!”
Forever Together dropped back to ninth as Quiet Meadow led Criticism through fractions of :23.60, :48.45, and 1:12.54. The favorite began to move up on the final turn, circling four wide into the stretch, when she unleashed her powerful kick for Leparoux. She quickly reached contention at the eighth pole while drifting in a bit, got the lead late and held it with determination as Carribean Sunset dug in under Dominguez.
"When I split horses and finally got cleared, I could see her (Forever Together) in front of me," Dominguez said. "We were closing down on her. I kept after my filly and she gave me everything she had. I knew it was going to be a tight finish and I was hoping it would go our way. Forever Together proved to be the defending champion."
Rutherienne, who saved ground for Garcia, lacked racing room on the final turn and steadied at the quarter pole. She was forced to wait again in the homestretch before getting clear leaving the eighth pole and finishing impressively at the hedge. This was the fourth time that Rutherienne has been beaten by Forever Together.
Tejida, who rallied from last to get fourth, finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Rutherienne. She edged My Princess Jess by a neck. Then came Colina Verde, Mushika, Quiet Meadow, Criticism, and Indescribable.
Under allowance conditions, Forever Together carried co-top weight of 123 pounds and paid $3.90, $3, and $2.30. The Irish-bred Carribean Sunset, who gave a top effort for trainer Christophe Clement, returned $7.40 and $4.40, completing a $2 exacta worth $30.40. Rutherienne was worth $3 to show.
“They both ran very well, both ran a very good race," Clement said. "I wouldn’t mind (if Sheppard decided) to go in another place, for once.”
Forever Together earned $300,000 while collecting her ninth win in 17 starts, boosting her career bankroll to $2,508,533. White Fox Farm bred the champ in Kentucky. She is out of the Relaunch mare Constant Companion.