Augustin Stable’s champion mare Forever Together, entering off a surprising defeat in Canada last month, will try to defend her title in the $400,000 First Lady Stakes (gr. IT) on opening weekend Oct. 10 at Keeneland.
A 5-year-old daughter of Belong to Me, Forever Together will attempt to become the first two-time winner of the one-mile First Lady, which is one of three grade I events on the Keeneland card. The gray/roan mare will again use the contest as a prep for the Nov. 6 Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), a race she won in 2008 on her way to being named champion turf female.
Post time for the First Lady, which gives the winner an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, is slated for 4:35 p.m. EDT. A field of nine was entered.
Sent off as the 3-10 choice in the Sept. 20 Canadian Stakes (Can-IIT) at Woodbine, Forever Together stalked the pace and came with a four-wide stretch move but could not catch upset winner Princess Haya, who won by a nose. It was the second runner-up finish for Forever Together this season, as she also was beaten by Diamondrella in the Just a Game (gr. IT) in June at Belmont.
Trained by Jonathan Sheppard, Forever Together does have a pair of graded stakes triumphs this season, including the Jenny Wiley (gr. IIT) at Keeneland this spring. She also won the Diana (gr. IT) at Saratoga in August.
In last year’s First Lady, Forever Together came from off the pace and made her winning move on the turn, cruising home under Julien Leparoux for a 1 1/2-length win over Precious Kitten. Leparoux will have the mount once again and they will break from post 5.
Forever Together, bred in Kentucky by Augustin, has won nine of 18 starts and earned more than $2.5 million. She turned in her final tune-up by working a half-mile in :46 on Keeneland's main track Oct. 7. It was the fastest time of 31 at that distance.
IEAH Stables’ Diamondrella will try to defeat Forever Together for the second time this season but will have to do it on a turf course she has never tried before. The 5-year-old Rock of Gibraltar mare had her six-race win streak snapped last out in the Sept. 12 Presque Isle Downs Masters (gr. IIIT) when she finished sixth against a quality group of females.
Trained by Angel Penna Jr., Diamondrella has done most of her best work going six or seven furlongs. Her 1 3/4-length score in the Just a Game was her first try at one mile. Rajiv Maragh will have the mount.
Helen Groves’ and Helen Alexander’s Acoma has enjoyed success at Keeneland, winning both times she has raced there. The 4-year-old Empire Maker filly broke her maiden in Lexington in April 2008 on the Polytrack, and then won the Pin Oak Valley View (gr. IIIT) later that fall on the turf course. This season, Acoma has added two more graded stakes to her credit, winning the Azeri (gr. III) on Oaklawn Park’s main track in her season debut and the Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (gr. IIIT) by neck over Pure Clan in June on the Churchill Downs grass.
But Acoma also comes off a disappointing race. She finished a weakening sixth in the 1 1/4-mile Delaware Handicap (gr. II) July 19 on the dirt. That effort prompted trainer David Carroll to keep Acoma on turf, where she is a perfect 3-for-3 in her career, all of the wins coming in graded stakes action.
“On reflection, it was a mistake going in the Delaware Handicap,” Carroll said. “It was a definitive answer from her that she wants the turf. She kind of lost her way after that race too. Her blood came up wrong and she was out of sorts for a while. It took us a while to get her back to where she was.
“I think she is doing very well now. We’ve been very pleased the last three weeks. She’s in a tough spot here but there is a little less pressure on us. We just want to see her run well. She’s probably a race away from being at her best.”
Carroll, who assigned Robby Albarado to ride, said Acoma could be pointed to the Cardinal Handicap (gr. IIIT) Nov. 21 at Churchill for her next race.
Also in with solid chances are Lael Stables’ My Princess Jess, who won Belmont’s Beaugay (gr. IIIT) in May, and Darley Stable’s Tizaqueena, winner of the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) on Kentucky Derby day.
Tizaqueena, trained by Mark Stidham, was fourth but missed by just 1 1/2 lengths to Dynaforce last out in the Beverly D. (gr. IT) Aug. 8 at Arlington Park. The 4-year-old Tiznow filly should be an early pace factor under Jamie Theriot.
$400,000 First Lady (gr. IT, Race 7, 4:35 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 Mile (Turf) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Acoma (KY), R Albarado, 123, D M Carroll
2. Danzon (KY), M Mena, 123, K Gorder
3. Cure for Sale (ARG), S Bridgmohan, 123, R Malek
4. Tizaqueena (KY), J Theriot, 123, M Stidham
5. Forever Together (KY), J R Leparoux, 123, J E Sheppard
6. My Princess Jess (FL), J Lezcano, 123, B Tagg
7. Hotlantic (KY), J Figueroa, 123, D E Keen
8. Diamondrella (GB), R Maragh, 123, A J Penna, Jr.
9. Superior Storm (LA), L S Quinonez, 123, R D Jackson