Lady Sabelia bids to join elite company in Fritchie title defense
Lady Sabelia will attempt to join an elite club when she defends her title in Saturday's $300,000 Barbara Fritchie H. (G2) at Laurel.
Winner of the seven-furlong test for fillies and mares by 1 1/2 lengths last season, Lady Sabelia will likely be favored to join Hall of Fame sprinter Xtra Heat (2002-03), Maryland-bred great Twixt (1974-75) and future Broodmare of the Year Too Bald (1968-69), the dam of Hall of Famer Exceller and champion Capote, as back-to-back winners of the Fritchie, which dates to 1952. Skipat, one of the most notable Connecticut-breds of modern times, also won the Fritchie twice, in 1979 and 1981.
A homebred daughter of Majestic Warrior racing for Mrs. Frank P. Wright, Lady Sabelia has been a gem of consistency, winning eight times in 11 starts the past two calendar years. Following her wire-to-wire score in last year's Fritchie, Lady Sabelia hit a brief bump in the spring finishing last of six in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland before rebounding with a second-place effort in the $100,000 Skipat at Pimlico.
Following a spell that lasted until November, Lady Sabelia rebounded with two big wins in the $100,000 Pumpkin Pie at Belmont Park and $100,000 Willa On the Move at Laurel, the latter as a 1-5 favorite.
"She's doing great," trainer Robin Graham said. "We've had a little time off because her eye flared up on her after the last race, so we missed a few days. That's making it a little harder, but everybody has to deal with the same things, so you do what you have to do."
The Fritchie serves as a rubber match between Lady Sabelia and Princess Violet, who finished second in the Fritchie last year before taking the Madison by a half-length. However, the Michael Hushion trainee enters on a four-race losing skid, including a fourth to champion La Verdad in the $100,000 Interborough on January 9 at Aqueduct.
The recently retired La Verdad was initially pointing for this race, but her connections will be represented instead by Hot City Girl, a half-sister to La Verdad who was obtained in a package deal with that mare three years ago. Hot City Girl got really good last fall winning three straight, including the Charles Town Oaks (G3) and $100,000 Safely Kept over this track and distance. She was a solid second, beaten a half-length, in the La Brea (G1) at Santa Anita last time.
The Fritchie has also attracted the Grade 1-placed Wonder Gal and Dancing House. The latter, runner-up in the Interborough last time, is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, who has also entered Clothes Fall Off, a stakes-placed allowance winner at Aqueduct in her most recent start. The field is rounded out by Sweet On Smokey, heroine of the $75,000 What a Summer over six furlongs at Laurel January 2.
Page McKenney, who achieved millionaire status winning the $75,000 Native Dancer last month, seeks his fourth straight win Saturday in the $75,000 John B. Campbell H. at 1 1/8 miles. The venerable six-year-old, who captured the Campbell by a neck last year, could have as many as 10 opponents, including Grade 3 winner Kid Cruz and Native Dancer runner-up Golden Glint.
The stakes action kicks off with the $75,000 Maryland Racing Media, an about 1 1/16-mile affair for fillies and mares. Stakes winner Mei Ling, runner-up in the Go for Wand H. (G3) and $98,000 Ladies H. at Aqueduct in her past two starts, faces a field that includes Grade 2-placed Pangburn and Gypsy Judy, a multiple stakes winner at Laurel.
(Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club photo)