05/12/2003 11:00PM

Forever Partners on a roll


BALTIMORE - Given a second chance at a career that started with great promise, Forever Partners is picking up right where she left off. She was one of the elite 2-year-old fillies of last summer before a knee injury took her to the sidelines. But she returned with a sharp allowance victory last month, and is the one to beat in Thursday's $100,000 Miss Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.

The six-furlong Miss Preakness, a Grade 3 event for 3-year-old fillies, drew seven entrants, most notably Awesome Humor, who handed Forever Partners the only loss of her career in last year's Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga. But trainer Elliott Walden elected to keep Awesome Humor at Churchill Downs for a race on Wednesday, leaving Forever Partners the heavy favorite against five rivals.

Forever Partners won the first two starts of her career last year, including the Colleen Stakes at Monmouth. She then finished second in the Spinaway but emerged from the race with an injury to her right knee.

According to trainer Tony Dutrow, veterinarians in Saratoga, Maryland, and at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center all examined X-rays and concluded that Forever Partners would not race again. "It looked like she was going to be a mommy," Dutrow said Tuesday.

He said the decision to operate on Forever Partners anyway was made in the hope that potential arthritic problems in the joint could be mitigated.

"The surgeon," Dutrow said, referring to Dr. Dean Richardson, "said that when he got into the joint, there was almost no damage. He said, 'I know the films look bad, but the knee looked pretty damn good. I think you could race her again.'"

Dutrow gave Forever Partners plenty of time to recover, then sent her to trainer Frank Smith in South Carolina for the winter. "She came back to me ready to breeze," Dutrow said.

She has continued uninterrupted. Forever Partners made her first start since the surgery on April 12 at Pimlico and scored a 4 1/2-length victory in a second-level allowance.

"As a summertime 2-year-old, she was as talented as one could be," Dutrow said. "She was very smart, very precocious. Usually the rest of the generation catches up at some point. I don't know if she's any faster today than she was last July or August, but I would think her chances of winning the race would have to be excellent."

Pompamento, who is unbeaten in two starts and is making her stakes debut, and Chimichurri, a stakes winner who was fourth in Keeneland's Beaumont Stakes on April 10, appear to be the main threats to Forever Partners.