11/05/2009 12:00AM

Opinions split on Forever Together

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Jonathan Sheppard and exercise rider Barry Wiseman have their hands full Wednesday morning with Forever Together. She tries to defend her title in the Filly and Mare Turf on Friday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Forever Together has lost more frequently than she has won this year, leaving a few rival trainers to question if she can defend her title in Friday's $2 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita.

"Her last three races have been nothing like last year," said Bob Holthus, who trains Pure Clan, the winner of the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park last month.

"Is she the same as she was last year?" questioned Bill Mott, who starts Dynaforce, the winner of the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park in August. "Of course, the same came be said of us. You always wonder if they can run the same race."

Forever Together is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the Filly and Mare Turf, which drew a field of eight and is run over 1 1/4 miles. The turf will be firm, and that, according to trainer Jonathan Sheppard, will greatly help Forever Together defend her title.

"Even though her record wouldn't indicate it, I think she's better," he said. "She's more confident and poised and more happy with herself."

Owned by George Strawbridge's Augustin Stable, Forever Together won 4 of 7 starts last year, including three Grade 1 races. This year, she has 2 wins in 5 starts, having won the Grade 2 Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland in April and repeating in the Grade 1 Diana Stakes over good turf at Saratoga on Aug. 1.

Forever Together has been beaten twice this fall, a second by a nose to Princess Haya in the Grade 2 Canadian Stakes at Woodbine on Sept. 20 and a third as the even-money favorite in the Grade 1 First Lady Stakes over a mile on soft turf at Keeneland on Oct. 10. Forever Together made up seven lengths in the final furlong of the First Lady, but could not get to Diamondrella.

Sheppard said the soft turf at Keeneland cost Forever Together.

"It takes away her strongest asset - her acceleration," he said. "I think she's been compromised by the way the races set up. Maybe we left her with too much to do once or twice."

In the 2008 Filly and Mare Turf, Forever Together chased a slow pace, and closed from eighth with a furlong remaining to win by three-quarters of a length. She was later named champion turf female.

No one has locked up that title this year, though Dynaforce, Forever Together, Pure Clan, and Magical Fantasy have won Grade 1 races in this country.

Pure Clan was 10th in the 2008 Filly and Mare Turf, but Holthus is confident she will improve.

"She's a little more mature and is a stronger mare this year," he said.

The distance is not an issue. Pure Clan won over 1 1/4 miles on turf in the Flower Bowl last month and in the Grade 1 American Oaks at Hollywood Park in 2008. The Filly and Mare Turf will be jockey Garrett Gomez's first time aboard Pure Clan.

"He knows the course well," Holthus said.

Magical Fantasy has won four consecutive graded stakes, including two at Santa Anita this year. Trainer Paddy Gallagher is guardedly optimistic about her chances.

"The closer it gets, the tougher it looks," he said. "This is the toughest race she'll have in her career."

The field also includes Visit, who is winless in seven starts this year; Rutherienne, a nine-time stakes winner who is trying 1 1/4 miles for the first time; Maram, the winner of the 2008 BC Juvenile Fillies Turf; and the well-regarded European import Midday.

A 3-year-old trained by Henry Cecil, Midday won the Group 1 Nassau Stakes over 1 1/4 miles on soft turf at Goodwood, England, on Aug. 1, and returned to finish third in the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera in Paris on Oct. 4. After the latter race, Cecil said he felt the filly needed the race because of a two-month gap between starts.

Friday's race may have a slow pace. Visit, second in the Yellow Ribbon, and Dynaforce, eighth in the 2008 Filly and Mare Turf, will be near the front.

When Mott was reminded that there may be an absence of pace, he smiled, saying, "That's fine with me."