10/08/2009 11:00PM

Forever Together follows familiar path to Cup

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Nobody gets their pick in such matters. Not even a legend like Jonathan Sheppard.

Given a choice of whether he would rather see Forever Together emerge victorious Saturday at Keeneland in the Grade 1 First Lady or have her win nearly four weeks later in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita, Sheppard carefully considered his words.

"If you had to make a choice of the two," said the 69-year-old Hall of Fame trainer, "you'd have to pick the Breeders' Cup."

Of course you would. But who says you can't have both? As clearly defined as the $400,000 First Lady might be on her agenda - it's a BC prep and a Win and You're In race for the Filly and Mare Turf - Forever Together sometimes is so superior that she just can't help herself.

In fact, Forever Together swept both races last year en route to being named the Eclipse champion in the filly and mare turf division. Moreover, her three-race pattern leading into these next two races is so uncannily similar to last year that Sheppard questions why anyone would question whether Forever Together is as good as she once was.

As a 4-year-old of 2008, she ran third in the Just a Game at Belmont, won the Diana at Saratoga, and was third in the Canadian Stakes at Woodbine. As a 5-year-old of 2009, she was second in the Just a Game, won the Diana, and was second by a nose in the Canadian.

"Mentally, she's more mature, and physically, she's just as good, if not better," Sheppard said. "She's an extremely intelligent horse. She knows that when the rider tells her to get after them, it's time to go."

Eight opponents will line up against Forever Together in the 12th running of the one-mile First Lady, with Diamondrella and My Princess Jess looking like the top challengers. Sheppard said the progression from a mile to the 1 1/4-mile distance of the BC Filly and Mare Turf is just what he wants for Forever Together, a gray Kentucky-bred mare owned by the Augustin Stable.

"The mile gets her sharp," he said. "I rather like it."

Julien Leparoux has the mount on Forever Together, who breaks from post 5.

Diamondrella, with Rajiv Maragh riding from post 8, had a six-race win streak snapped in her latest start Sept. 12, but that came in a synthetic-track sprint and she seems more in her element when stretching out and returning to turf. Recently purchased by the IEAH Stables and still trained by Angel Penna Jr., the 5-year-old mare won the Grade 1 Just a Game on the June 6 Belmont Stakes undercard. Earlier, she returned from a layoff to win the April 18 Giant's Causeway over the Keeneland turf.

My Princess Jess (post 6) has finished third or better in 11 of 14 career starts and figures as a stalking threat under Jose Lezcano.

Of the longer-priced runners, Acoma (post 1) seems of interest, if only because she's returning to her preferred surface after being soundly defeated in the July 19 Delaware Handicap.

"She was really knocked out after that race," trainer David Carroll said. "We're certainly not dodging anybody by running in this race, but we were looking for a place to start back on the grass, and this was it. I've got her back doing good, so we'll hope for the best."

Also in the field are Danzon, Cure for Sale, Tizaqueena, Hotlantic, and Superior Storm.

The First Lady, first run in 1998, goes as the seventh of 10 Saturday races.