by Ted Black
For a trio of local trainers, this Saturday’s $100,000 What A Summer Stakes for fillies and mares offers the possibility of a genuine two-fold reward: the top prize on Saturday, and the preparation it offers for next month’s Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap.
Lady Sabelia, Disco Barbie and Flattering Bea will all head into the What A Summer Stakes this weekend perhaps with their connections focused on both tasks. All will look to turn a solid effort in Saturday’s six furlong event into the foundation they’ll need for the seven-furlong, $300,000 Fritchie on February 14.
Lady Sabelia cruised by nearly eight lengths in the Willa On The Move Stakes over a sloppy Laurel strip in her most recent start on December 6 for trainer Robin Graham and owner-breeder Mrs. Frank Wright. She arrives as the sharpest mare on the grounds, having won four of five outings last season, two in stakes company, while registering Beyer speed figures as high as 99.
“She’s really coming into the race good,” Graham said of the daughter of Majestic Warrior. “She’s had two works since her last start. She went an easy five-eighths two weeks ago and then she breezed a half-mile last Saturday. I an happy with the way she’s coming into it.”
Lady Sabelia won twice in 2013, including one stakes victory, but also was beaten as the favorite twice.
“I think the biggest difference between her [in 2013] and  is she’s just really matured,” Graham said. “But she’s definitely doing really good. We’ll see how she comes out of the race on Saturday, but the plan is to come back for the Fritchie. That’s been her target since the fall. I’m happy for the Wrights. They’ve been in the business a long time.”
Disco Barbie has never won a stake — but she has placed in eight different stakes, four of them graded. The five-year-old Pure Prize mare trained by Dale Capuano for owner Diane Manning was a distant second behind Lady Sabelia in the Willa On The Move Stakes last month and has been second once and third once in two Laurel outings. She has trained well over the strip since the Willa On The Move.
“We’re really happy with the race this mare has raced for us,” Capuano said. “The three-quarters might be a little short for her this weekend, but we’re using this race as a stepping stone to the Fritchie. The seven-eighths is definitely her best distance. She’s been training well since her last start, but we’ve just put a couple of easy works in her.”
Capuano made clear that Saturday’s race is merely the appetizer; the main course comes next month.
“After this race playtime will be over and we’ll put a couple of serious works in her before the Fritchie,” he said. “We’re hoping for a fast track this Saturday but she’ll run well on any surface. We’re hoping she runs well and comes out of the race okay and then we’ll go from there.”
Another local mare looking to use a good effort in the What A Summer Stakes as an ideal stepping stone to the Barbara Fritchie is Flattering Bea, a five-year-old Flatter mare trained by Crystal Pickett for owner-breeder James Arrison. Although idle since running second in the Pink Ribbon Stakes at Charles Town in mid-September, Flattering Bea returns to a distance where she has been second four times in six tries. She won only once in seven tries last year, but scored in the $200,000 Sugar Maple Stakes at Charles Town at the Fritchie distance of seven panels. The Arrison homebred, who was sixth in last year’s Fritchie after running second in the Safely Kept Stakes (for three-year-old fillies) here, sports a solid 5-6-0 slate and earnings just shy of $340,000 from 18 outings.
“She’s been off for a while, but she’s been training super,” said Pickett, who has 12 horses at Pimlico and another eight at Charles Town. “She usually races better off a layoff and she’s worked great recently. I galloped her last month and Xavier [Perez] worked her five-eighths in 1:02 last week to get her ready. We’re definitely going to the Fritchie next month. We tried that race last year and she finished sixth, but she had missed a lot of time because she was sick and at the farm. But she usually runs her best races every six or seven weeks between starts, That’s how she won the Sugar Maple last year.”
Lady Sabelia is the even-money favorite in the morning line and owns four wins at the trip. She figures to be a handful on Saturday. But Capuano and Pickett hope that the added furlong next month will level the playing field — though both acknowledge the sledding will be tougher in the Fritchie.
“The seven furlongs is perfect for [Disco Barbie],” Capuano said. “She should have a couple of tougher works leading into it and hopefully we’ll get a fast track that day. I know the competition is going to be a lot tougher, They don’t just give away that kind of money. I know there’ll be a few good ones from New York and elsewhere coming in.”
“After [Flattering Bea] won the Sugar Maple, we tried her in the Bed o’ Roses in New York,” Pickett said. “She came up sick after the race. We thought she would run big in there, but she had a lot of mucus after the race. She’s not going to back down from any of those top mares. Last year her entire season was facing stakes company. I think she’s headed for her best year ever. After that Mr. Arrison plans to retire her to keep as a broodmare, so hopefully she’ll end her career on a high note.”
(Featured image, of Flattering Bea, by Coady Photography.)