07/30/2009 12:00AM

Rutherienne faces her nemesis again

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Barbara D. Livingston
Forever Together, with Danielle Hodsdon, must overcome post 10 to defend her Diana title.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Rutherienne has chased home Forever Together three times during the last year, a dubious streak that began at Saratoga in the 2008 Diana. But barring a soft or yielding turf course, Grade 1 winner Rutherienne will try Forever Together one more time in Saturday's $500,000 Diana, which shares top billing on the card with the Grade 2 Jim Dandy.

Rutherienne, who won the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks at 3, finished third behind Forever Together in last year's Diana. The outcome was the same when the pair met again 10 weeks later in the Grade 1 First Lady at Keeneland. In their most recent encounter, Rutherienne finished a troubled second, one length behind Forever Together, making her 2009 debut in Keeneland's Grade 2 Jenny Wiley.

"She's doing well, and if the course is firm enough, we'll take a chance," said Christophe Clement, who trains Rutherienne for owner-breeder Virginia Kraft Payson. "Forever Together is the best filly in the field, but it's still a horse race and there are several reasons why I think we can beat her this time. We had a better draw. Forever Together's way on the outside in a tough post, and you need a lot of luck to win from there. She's also carrying a lot of weight. We're only getting three pounds from her but in the end even that can be significant."

Forever Together will break from post 10 in defense of her Diana title. Rutherienne drew post 3.

Rutherienne is one of two horses Clement plans to start in the Grade 1 Diana along with Carribean Sunset. She finished fourth making her Grade 1 debut in the Just a Game before rebounding to win a minor stakes at Philadelphia Park in her last start.

Forever Together registered the first of her three Grade 1 triumphs last season when she rallied to a three-quarter-length decision over Dynaforce in the 2008 Diana. She also captured the Grade 1 First Lady as a stepping-stone to her victory in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Forever Together opened her 2009 campaign defeating Rutherienne in the Jenny Wiley but was upset in the Just a Game after getting blocked behind horses on the final turn and outfinished by Diamondrella.

Trainer Jonathan Sheppard said Forever Together was given a series of long, slow breezes at his farm following the Just a Game before shipping to Saratoga last weekend and working a blistering five furlongs in 57.66 seconds over the Oklahoma turf course on Wednesday morning.

"I've just concentrated on bringing her up to the race as best we can," said Sheppard. "If we can get her there on top of her game, I know she'll be right there."

Criticism, making her first start in a Grade 1, will share top weight of 123 pounds with Forever Together under the allowance conditions of the 1 1/8-mile Diana. Criticism has already posted three graded stakes victories this season, winning all three of those races on the lead.

"She's going back in distance and doesn't necessarily have to be in front," said trainer Tom Albertrani. "She'll make her own pace, and wherever she's comfortable that's where she'll run. I'm not worried about the distance. It's just a question of how she'll handle stepping up into Grade 1 company."

Completing the lineup are Mushka, Quiet Meadow, Indescribable, My Princess Jess, Colina Verde, and Tejida.

Love Cove tries to regain good form

A full field of 12 New York-bred fillies and mares will contest the $70,000 Lake Luzerne Stakes, scheduled for 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

Love Cove, a two-time stakes winner in 2008, is among the top contenders in a field that also includes Chestoria, Cagey Girl, and Pastel Gal.

Love Cove is winless in two starts in 2009 after closing out her 4-year-old campaign winning a pair of stakes, including the Ticonderoga Handicap at Belmont.

"Her last couple of starts have been a little disappointing," said Albertrani. "Hopefully she'll energize herself and come back to her old form in here."