From the New York Racing Association
Will trainer Jonathan Sheppard experience déjà vu with Augustin Stable’s Forever Together?
On Aug. 1, the 5-year-old gray or roan mare seeks to become only the fifth horse to put together back-to-back victories in the $500,000 Diana Stakes (gr. IT), a feat that only Glowing Honor (1988-89), Shuvee (1970-71), Tempted (1959-60) and Miss Grillo (1946-47) have been able to accomplish in the 71 previous editions of the 1 1/8- mile turf race.
The Diana, which is race nine on Saturday’s card, has an approximate post time of 5:14 p.m. ET.
Last year, Forever Together rallied from last, 15 lengths back, to win the Diana by three quarters of a length under Julien Leparoux, and closed out her sensational 2008 season with two more grade I victories in the First Lady at Keeneland and the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita Park.
This year, Forever Together comes into the Diana as the 9-5 favorite against nine rivals off a second-place finish in Belmont Park’s Just A Game Stakes (gr. IT) June 6 – a race where she was blocked by six horses going around the far turn.
“She had to wait and wait and wait until something opened up for her,” said Sheppard of Forever Together, who won the April 11 Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. IIT) at Keeneland in her first start of the year. “I think the one-turn mile at Belmont is not quite to her best advantage. She can win those races at a mile, but she is more suited for two turns.”
As for the filly and mare turf division, Sheppard believes Forever Together is the leader.
“I think it’s rather fair (to say that) because, not that she has set the world on fire, but she hasn’t done anything wrong, and I haven’t seen anything else come out of the woodwork. It seems like she is the same horse that she was last year.”
While Forever Together looks to defend her Diana title while remaining atop the division, there are several others who are looking to move up the ranks, among them Darley Stable’s Criticism, who has blossomed since coming to the United States last year.
The 5-year-old mare has finished no worse than third – both on turf and dirt – in seven graded stakes starts since her American debut in the fall of 2008. Along with winning the Long Island Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Aqueduct last year, Criticism has won the The Very One (gr. IIIT), the LaPrevoyante (gr. IIT), and the Sheepshead Bay (gr. IIT).
“This was unexpected,” trainer Tom Albertrani said. “When you look back at her past performances in Europe, you would have never thought she was at that level where she is right now.”
When Albertrani first got Criticism, he had a difficult time finding a race for her. One of his limited options was the Athenia Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park, in which she rallied for a second-place finish, beaten just a half-length.
“When I first got her, I was looking for allowance races to see how she would fit in this country,” Albertrani said. “There was nothing at the time, so the Athenia was the only thing at the moment. We were pleasantly surprised with her effort. Everything went up from there.”
Rutherienne will take another shot in the Diana after finishing third in last year’s edition. This year, the 5-year-old mare finished second to Forever Together in the Jenny Wiley and followed with a win in the Nassau Stakes (Can-IIT) at Woodbine.
Trainer Barclay Tagg would like to see Lael Stable’s My Princess Jess repeat her winning performance in last year’s Lake George Stakes (gr. IIT) at Saratoga. This year, along with winning the May 2 Beaugay Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Belmont, My Princess Jess finished third in the Just A Game Stakes.
The field for the Aug. 1, grade I, $500,000 Diana Stakes
PP., Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Odds
1. Mushka, Bill Mott, John Velazquez, 10-1
2. Quiet Meadow, Chad Brown, Jose Lezcano, 15-1
3. Rutherienne, Christophe Clement, Alan Garcia, 6-1
4. Indescribable, Bill Mott , Kent Desormeaux, 20-1
5. Criticism, Tom Albertrani, Javier Castellano, 6-1
6. Carribean Sunset , Christophe Clement, Ramon Dominguez, 6-1
7. My Princess Jess, Barclay Tagg, Cornelio Velasquez, 5-1
8. Colina Verde, Kiaran McLaughlin, Robby Albarado, 20-1
9. Tejida, Michael Matz , Corey Nakatani, 15-1
10. Forever Together, Jonathan Sheppard, Julien Leparoux, 9-5