Lady Sabelia was much the best in today's Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie. Photo by Laurie Asseo.

Lady Sabelia was all by her lonesome at the wire in the s Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie. Photo by Laurie Asseo.

by Ted Black

Now the water gets deep for Lady Sabelia.

After recording four straight victories at Laurel Park, capped by a sharp score in the Grade 2, $300,000 Barbara Fritchie on February 14, Lady Sabelia and trainer Robin Graham will tackle Saturday’s Grade 1, $350,000 Madison Stakes at Keeneland.

While neither Lady Sabelia nor Graham has yet won a Grade 1 race, don’t think that horse or trainer is running scared.

“I certainly would not want to run against her,” Graham said of Lady Sabelia,who has won both of her starts this season and eight of 14 career outings while earning nearly $520,000 for breeder-owners Frank and Virginia Wright. “I think she’s been getting a little better with each race since the winter. She ran really well in the Willa On The Move, she came right back with another nice win in the What A Summer and then she ran exceptionally well in the Fritchie.”


There’s plenty of reason to think that she could continue her run through the distaff sprint division in Saturday’s tilt.  Among her five rivals in the Madison on Saturday, only two, Sam’s Sister and Stopchargingmaria, are already Grade 1 winners.  Lady Sabelia defeated Sam’s Sister by more than three lengths in the Barbara Fritchie at Laurel Park on Feb. 14.  And while Stopchargingmaria is a two-time Grade 1 winner, both of those triumphs came at route distances (1 1/8 miles and 1 1/4 miles).

Meanwhile, Lady Sabelia, a five-year-old daughter of Majestic Warrior out of the Citidancer mare Terra Maria, is in the best form of her career and loves the tricky seven-furlong distance at which the Madison is contested.

While the Laurel Park-based Graham has yet to saddle a Grade 1 winner, the good news is that she is undefeated at Keeneland.  Her lone starter there, Black Java, won an allowance race on October 28, 2005.

Horacio Karamanos and Lady Sabelia return to cheers after winning the G2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap. Misconnect collared Cutty Shark late to wi the Grade 3 General George. Photo by Laurie Asseo.

Horacio Karamanos and Lady Sabelia return to cheers after winning the G2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap. Photo by Laurie Asseo.

And, while she has not yet won a Grade 1 event, Graham did condition talented turf runner Mr. O’Brien, who won two Grade 2 stakes in 2004 and was second in that year’s Grade 1 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park. He would later run ninth in the Breeders Cup Mile at Lone Star Park and ended his career with a solid 8-5-3 slate and career earnings of nearly $725,000 from 25 outings.

That experience may help on Saturday, when Graham will be joined in the Keeneland paddock by several trainers who are not strangers to the bright lights. In addition to Stopchargingmaria, a two-time Grade I winner last year at age three for Todd Pletcher; and Sam’s Sister, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer; both Wedding Toast [Kiaran McLaughlin] and Princess Violet [Linda Rice] arrive from Grade 1-winning conditioners. Princess Violet was second to Lady Sabelia in the Fritchie.

“When I had Mr. O’Brien and he ran in several Grade 1 races, I was used to seeing those other trainers in the paddock,” Graham said. “It’s not going to faze me on Saturday. Anytime you go to a major track like Keeneland or Belmont or Monmouth for a Grade 1 stakes, you know you’re going to see one or two of those guys there. I’m looking forward to it on Saturday. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone and I would not want to run against [Lady Sabelia].”

[su_box title=”G1 MADISON STAKES (post time 3:28)” style=”glass”]
  1. Sam’s Sister (3-1)
  2. Wedding Toast (4-1)
  3. Stopchargingmaria (5-2)
  4. Lady Sabelia (3-1)
  5. Clearly Confused (12-1)
  6. Princess Violet (4-1)

Stopchargingmaria certainly brings the best credentials; the four-year-old daughter of Tale of the Cat has won six of 11 lifetime starts and nearly $1.5 million thanks in large part to her tallies in both the Grade 1 Alabama and Coaching Club American Oaks last season at age three.  But the Madison marks her seasonal debut, and the race’s seven-furlong distance is markedly shorter than the two-turn events in which she has registered her biggest scores. Sam’s Sister won the Grade 1 La Brea last December at Santa Anita and then a Grade 2 event there, but she was fourth behind Lady Sabelia in the Fritchie. Princess Violet was second in the Fritchie for Rice, and she also garnered runner-up honors in both the Go For Wand and the Mother Goose.

McLaughlin’s runner, Wedding Toast, has won five of eight starts and over $475,000, but her most prestigious score was in the Grade 3 Comely Stakes at Aqueduct. Clearly Confused boasts a solid 6-7-2 slate from 25 lifetime tries, but she has earned less than $200,000 thus far in her career and is likely to have her hands full here.

“There does look like there is some speed inside of us,” Graham said after looking over the entries and past performances for her rivals in the Madison. “With the four post, I think [jockey] Horacio [Karamanos] can be patient with her when they break. He doesn’t have to use her too early. She should be able to sit just off the leaders down the backside. She has enough speed to make the lead if he wants to send her. But either way, she should be in good position heading into the far turn.”

Lady Sabelia hs worked twice since capturing the Fritchie, and those breezes are another factor giving her trainer confidence heading into the Madison. Since capturing the Fritchie, Lady Sabelia has worked six furlongs in 1:14 1/5 on March 22 and then followed that up with a sharp 47 2/5 four-furlong drill that was the best of 27 runners on March 28.

“She came out of the Fritchie in great shape and she’s been training really, really well since then,” Graham said. “She just seems to keep getting better and she’s matured. I still don’t think we’ve seen her best race.”

Ted Black, a Maryland native, has covered racing — flat and harness, in West Virginia and in Maryland — for more than two decades. He is president of the Maryland Racing Media Association.