06/06/2009 12:00AM

Diamondrella rally takes Just a Game


ELMONT, N.Y. - Since she moved to turf 13 months ago, few, if any, have outfinished champion Forever Together. But it happened Saturday at Belmont Park in the Grade 1, $400,000 Just a Game Stakes. Diamondrella, a mare who had not raced beyond a sprint distance since August 2007, but who had won her last five starts, looped her field down the stretch and powered away from the 3-5 Forever Together to post a $21.20 upset.

"I'm not surprised," Angel Penna Jr., who trains Diamondrella for the Castletop Stable, said when asked after the Just a Game if he was surprised his mare blew past a big finisher like Forever Together. "She's a very good filly. I'm not saying I have Ruffian here, but she's good.

"And getting five pounds made a difference," Penna added. Diamondrella carried 118 pounds to Forever Together's 123. "I know a lot of people don't think weight makes a difference, but it does. And the other filly is a big filly. It's hard for horses like that on soft turf."

In actuality, the Widener course condition was upgraded to yielding from soft for the Just a Game. But the condition of the turf, which was greatly affected by substantial rain in the days preceding Belmont Stakes Day, was still of concern to Forever Together's trainer, Jonathan Sheppard.

"Oh, I was very concerned," he said. "It was on an off course at Woodbine when she ran her only not-so-good race" since moving to turf. "But, she needed a run, and had trained beautifully.

"It's hard to make up a lot of ground when the going is softer. It took her a while to get running room. The other filly is obviously a good filly, and we were giving her weight. We were by no means disgraced. She ran a game race under the circumstances."

Forever Together was only about five or six lengths off a pace of 23.85 seconds, 47.88, and 1:12.35 set by Raw Silk and pressed by Captain's Lover. Forever Together looked ready to go late on the far turn, but lacked room behind a wall of horses. She angled to the rail in upper stretch and seemed on her way, but then came Diamondrella.

Diamondrella, last of seven early, about a length behind Forever Together, angled out under Rajiv Maragh into the stretch and kicked strongly, taking over inside the eighth pole. A 5-year-old daughter of Rock of Gibraltar, she drew off to score by 1 3/4 lengths, completing the mile in 1:36.49. My Princess Jess was third, a little more than a length behind Forever Together, and a half-length before Carribean Sunset.

Penna said he would evaluate how Diamondrella rebounds from this effort before plotting a schedule for her, but did allow that her Just a Game score "opens up the picture for her. Being stuck in five and six furlong races isn't good." And as for Forever Together, Sheppard said the Diana at Saratoga remains her next target.