07/26/2010 2:13PM

Forever Together ready for Diana at Saratoga

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The Grade 1 Diana will not be run until Saturday afternoon, but anybody looking to get a little preview of the race need only have come over to the Oklahoma training track Monday morning, where four of the six expected starters got in their final tune-ups for the event.

Leading the way was two-time defending Diana champion Forever Together who will shoot for the hat trick Saturday. The 2008 female turf champion has dropped five consecutive starts since her popular head decision in the 2009 Diana, but she looked as good as ever in Monday’s prep. With jockey Danielle Hodson aboard, Forever Together began to pick up the pace leaving the 5 1/2-furlong pole, posting splits of 11.92 seconds, 23.69, and 35.88 before completing five panels in 59.76 and galloping out six furlongs in 1:13.18 around the dogs.

“That’s about what we were looking for,” trainer Jonathan Sheppard said while watching Forever Together take several rounds around the walking ring with Hodson still aboard back at his barn after the work. “She’s already got a good foundation, we just needed her to zip a little bit just one time. Fortunately, the weather was clear and cool, because she has a little trouble with hot weather.”

Sheppard said having Forever Together back to race again this year came as a pleasant surprise.

“When I went into the interview room after she finished third in the Breeders’ Cup, I was a little emotional because I thought that was the last time she was going to run,” Sheppard said. “I wasn’t really expecting it, and to be honest was rather shocked when Mr. [George] Strawbridge threw it out as a plan that she’d compete one more season. I felt like I’d just gotten a reprieve.”

Proviso, Phola, and My Princess Jess, the first three finishers in that order in the Grade 1 Just A Game at Belmont on June 5, also tuned up for the Diana on a very pleasant and cool morning.

Proviso went an easy five furlongs in 1:03.40 before galloping out very strongly into and around the turn with trainer Bill Mott keeping a watchful eye aboard his pony from the finish line. Phola worked a half-mile in 48.35, while the late-running My Princess Jess breezed five-eighths in 1:03.21, completing her final quarter-mile in 23.80.

“It certainly would be good for her future if she could get a piece or win it,” trainer Barclay Tagg of My Princess Jess who finished fifth, 2 1/2 lengths behind Forever Together, in the 2009 Diana. “She’s really not a mile-and-one-eighth horse, and things would have to set up right for her to win. But if the jock will wait with her, she’ll give a good late kick.”

Dynaslew and Shared Account are expected to complete the compact but competitive Diana lineup.

Quality Road impresses in drill

With rain keeping workouts to a bare minimum over the weekend, the main track was hopping from the time it opened at 5:30 a.m. Monday, with the scene particularly frenetic immediately after the renovation break. Not surprisingly, the most impressive work of the day was turned in by Quality Road who continues to look sharp for his role as the odds-on favorite a week from Saturday in the Grade 1 Whitney.

With regular exercise rider Patty Barry aboard and offering little encouragement at any point, Quality Road drilled five furlongs in 58.76 seconds in company with stablemate Exhi, cutting out splits of 23.42, 34.08, and 46.37 before exploding around the clubhouse turn to gallop out six furlongs in 1:11.58.

“It was a touch quicker than I would have liked, but he did it so effortlessly it’s hard to be critical,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He’s in super form at the moment, and it didn’t appear the work was too stressful for him, even though it was so impressive to watch. It should put us right where we want to be. Now, it’s just a matter of maintaining his form for another couple of weeks.”

The racetrack was a little deeper prior to the renovation break, but Grade 1 winner Franny Freud didn’t appear to mind from the looks of her five-furlong work in 59.52 seconds under exercise rider Simon Harris in company with stablemate Citrus Kid. Franny Freud, winner of the Grade 1 Prioress in her last start, will seek her fifth straight victory here later this summer in the Grade 1 Test.

“She’s awesome, she’s supernatural,” trainer John Terranova said. “And she seems to be getting better and better. The track might have been a little tiring, but she just skipped over it. Simon never let her loose. She’s amazing to watch. I couldn’t be more confident going into the Test.”

A couple of hours later, Terranova sent out another of his speedy 3-year-old New York-breds, General Maximus, to work five furlongs in 1:00.60. General Maximus is expected to make his graded stakes debut in Monday’s Grade 2 Amsterdam.

◗ Godolphin Stable got their major work done early Monday, sending out Sara Louise and Girolamo to breeze five furlongs in 1:00.22 and 1:01.14, respectively, and Gayego a half-mile in 48.36 almost immediately after the main track opened for training at 5:30 a.m. They were followed shortly thereafter by trainer Gary Contessa’s Classofsixtythree who went five-eighths in 1:01.11 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.77 in preparation for a possible start in Sunday’s Grade 1 Ruffian.

◗ Trainer Lisa Lewis posted her first victory of the season when William Schettine’s Show Trial rallied to win Monday’s opener under jockey Rajiv Maragh. Lewis had been based in Southern California since summer 2006 but moved back east after accepting a private position with Schettine earlier this month. Maragh captured both ends of Monday’s early daily double by returning to win the second race aboard Contessa’s Primed to be Ready.

Charity hoops game scheduled

Members of the New York jockey colony will take on horsemen and other members from various aspects of the New York horse racing industry in a charity basketball game Wednesday night at the Saratoga Rec Center on Vanderbilt Avenue between Lincoln Avenue and Worth Street.

The game begins at 7 p.m. and tickets are $15. Proceeds from the event will go to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund as well as the New York Chaplaincy.

For more information, contact Nick Caras at (516) 835-0275 or the N.Y. Chaplaincy’s Facebook page.

– additional reporting by David Grening