02/10/2015 3:05PM

Lady Sabelia has earned shot at Fritchie

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Lady Sabelia makes her graded stakes debut in the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie on Saturday.

Filly and mare sprinters seldom get to run for $300,000, which is why the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Park on Saturday is drawing runners from California, Florida, and New York. But one top contender won’t have to travel at all.

Lady Sabelia has resided in trainer Robin Graham’s barn at Laurel since 2012. And while that may give her a slight edge Saturday, she has more going for her than just home-field advantage. Lady Sabelia has been mopping the decks with her competition since last spring, and has won five of her last six races.

While the Fritchie will be her graded-stakes debut, Lady Sabelia certainly seems ready.

“I wouldn’t trade her for anyone else in the race,” Graham said Monday. “She can go the seven furlongs, we’re at home, and she had a very nice work yesterday.”

Now 5, Lady Sabelia has started only 13 times, with her owners, Mr. and Mrs. Frank P. Wright, and Graham patiently bringing her along, especially early in her career when she needed extra care.

“The reason she is doing so well now is because the Wrights haven’t pushed me to do anything with her,” Graham said. “They understand some horses mature faster than others.”

As a 2-year-old, Lady Sabelia started three times and then was given nine months off.

“Her shins were always bothering her,” Graham said. “We gave her time and did some electric shock on her shins. I never turned her out, just kept her in light training.”

Lady Sabelia made four starts at 3, winning a maiden race and a stakes, then was off five months

“She has a slight issue with her right eye,” Graham said. “She has a tendency to get ulcers on that eye and it’s something we have to manage. That’s why I race her in the bubble blinker, to protect the eye.”

Since returning at 4, Lady Sabelia has won three stakes, two at Laurel and one at Monmouth Park. All told, she is 7 for 13 with earnings of $338,000.

Graham, 58, has a show-horse background that also includes three-day eventing and fox hunting. Before going out on her own as a trainer in 1993, she was an assistant to Barclay Tagg, Richard Small, and Carlos Garcia.

Graham has never won more than 18 races in a year, but she has won five graded stakes, including three Grade 2’s: the Kelso Handicap and Futurity, both at Belmont Park, and the Dixie at Pimlico.

“What makes Lady Sabelia special to me is that she’s one of the few good stakes horses I’ve had who has been with me from the beginning,” Graham said. “Some of the others had been with different trainers before they came to me.”

Graham met the Wrights while working for Tagg in 1982. Before selling their Maryland farm several years ago, the Wrights bred and raced Lady Sabelia’s dam and grandam. Lady Sabelia is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Majestic Warrior.

In her last three starts, Lady Sabelia has posted emphatic victories at Laurel, earning Beyer Speed Figures ranging from 91 to 99. She has won on the lead and from off the pace.

“She’s adaptable and runs with a lot of self-confidence,” Graham said. “I think that comes from the Wrights giving her the time she needed to develop.”

Sam’s Sister star of Fritchie

The fields for the Fritchie and Saturday’s two undercard stakes, the John Campbell and Maryland Racing Media Stakes, will be drawn Wednesday.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is expected to run Grade 1 winner Sam’s Sister in the Fritchie and Southern Freedom in the Campbell.

Other expected Fritchie starters include Princess Violet (trained by Mike Hushion), Expression (Charlton Baker), Stormy Novel (John Servis), and Best Behavior and Centrique (both trained by Marty Wolfson).

Laurel Park’s winter carnival concludes Monday with the Grade 3, $250,000 General George, $100,000 Miracle Wood, and the $100,000 Wide Country.

The Saturday and Monday cards will be streamed live on DRF.com.