04/09/2009 12:00AM

Champion no cinch in comeback


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Everybody likes a winner. Still, racing fans being the value seekers they are, not everybody will be backing Forever Together when the Grade 2 Jenny Wiley Stakes is run Saturday over the Keeneland turf - although that can't alter the fact the champ is back.

Away since posting her rousing victory in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf and being voted a divisional Eclipse Award champion, Forever Together will face a legitimate test when returning from a 5 1/2-month layoff in the $200,000 Jenny Wiley, a 1 1/16-mile race that drew nine fillies and mares. The Wiley is one of three supporting stakes on the Blue Grass undercard.

Forever Together, a gray mare owned by the Augustin Stable of George Strawbridge Jr. and trained by Jonathan Sheppard, surely will have to be on her toes to prevail in her comeback. The competition includes the likes of Backseat Rhythm, a Grade 1 winner who will make her first start under the care of trainer Kiaran McLaughlin; Rutherienne, the 2008 Jenny Wiley winner who has won 9 of 17 starts; and Visit, a highly regarded Juddmonte Farms homebred who was fourth to Forever Together in the BC Filly and Mare Turf.

Julien Leparoux, who rode Forever Together to win 3 of her last 4 starts in 2008, has the mount back.

"She's got an incredible kick at the end," said Leparoux. "When I get her out, she's always been there for me.

"I'm sure she'll run good Saturday. I don't really know if she'll win or not, but she is going to run good, like she always does. She's just a champion - that's it."

Backseat Rhythm is a 4-year-old filly who really came to hand last year when then-trainer Pat Reynolds began spotting her regularly on turf. At her peak, she posted back-to-back wins in the Grade 2 Lake Placid and Grade 1 Garden City. In her most recent start, she was up in the nick of time to win the Grade 3 Hillsborough Handicap at Tampa Bay Downs.

The rest of the Jenny Wiley cast consists of I Lost My Choo, Lady Carlock, Ballymore Lady, Rustic Flame, and Kiss With a Twist.

Of those, maybe I Lost My Choo has the best chance at a long price. She enters off a nifty score in the Grade 3 Honey Fox at Gulfstream in her lone start of the year.