Racing abounds with contests named after equine royalty: The Personal Ensign. The Ruffian. The Shuvee. The Vagrancy. Their names evoke speed and strength and superiority. To win them is, in some small part, to be linked to them.
But then there’s the Diana. The Diana. Not just royalty, but a goddess. The chaste and fleet goddess of the moon; nimble and proud, she also ruled the forests and the animals. She is the goddess of the hunt, of swiftness over turf.
The fillies and mares that have won the Diana have earned their place in racing history: Searching (twice), Busanda, Gamely, Shuvee (twice). And more recently, Forever Together, the champion who won this race in 2008 and 2009.
She came back this year, at six, to defend her Diana title; she’s not, everyone said, the same mare. She hadn’t won since the Diana last year, though in the five starts since, she’s never been worse than third.
Yesterday, she met Proviso for the first time, Proviso who has raced in nothing but Grade I races since coming from Europe last fall. She’d crossed the wire first in three of them, though was placed second in the Spinster. Off the turf in the Distaff, she finished fourth; she was second in the Santa Monica Handicap. She beat the boys in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap.
So were the bettors voting with their hearts? How else to explain that Forever Together, winless in her last five, was sent to the post the favorite over Proviso, winner of two straight Grade I races?
After stumbling at the start, Forever Together took her customary place near the back of the pack, while Proviso in third stalked the pace set by Dynaslew. Both mares made their moves on the far turn, Proviso angling to the outside under Mike Smith, while Forever Together, under Julien Leparoux, was bottled up behind horses.
It looked, at the eighth pole, as though Forever Together were hopelessly beaten, but the gray mare gathered herself, re-launched, and made a determined run down the middle of the racetrack. She couldn’t catch Proviso and Shared Account, but when they hit the wire, less than two heads separated the three of them: Proviso, Shared Account, Forever Together in third.
This morning at the barn, Forever Together’s regular exercise rider, Danielle Hodsdon, said that the horse was a little cranky. “She doesn’t like to lose,” said Hodsdon, “and last night her groom said that she was hard to handle.”
Forever Together may stay here in Saratoga, or she may go to Sheppard’s farm for a few weeks. “She likes it there,” he said, “and she knows that when she comes back here, it’s time to start getting ready for a race.”
The goal is still the Breeders’ Cup, and Forever Together will run twice before then, though Sheppard hasn’t yet chosen the spots. “The last two years,” he said, “we sent her to Canada, and she lost twice.” In 2008, she was third in the Grade II Canadian Stakes; last year, she was second. He implied that he might look elsewhere this year.
In her stall, Forever Together didn’t look cranky. A little imperious, perhaps, and at times impatient. Maybe she was thinking that without that stumble…or maybe if she could have gotten clear a little sooner…
Earlier this year, trainer Jonathan Sheppard said that this year with Forever Together was a gift; he thought that she would have been retired at the end of 2009. We can’t help but think that retirement looms, sooner rather than later. We may not see her again at the Spa, but if yesterday was her last appearance at Saratoga, she made it one for us to remember.