The Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Stakes on Saturday at Laurel Park will match last year's winner, the 6-year-old Lady Sabelia, against the rapidly improving 4-year-old Hot City Girl. A field of seven was entered Monday for the $300,000 Fritchie, a seven-furlong race for fillies and mares.
Saturday is the first day of Laurel's winter carnival, which concludes on Presidents Day Monday with the Grade 3, $250,000 General George, a seven-furlong race for 4-year-olds and up. There are a pair of $75,000 supporting stakes on each program.
Hot City Girl came to hand for trainer Linda Rice following a summer freshening and enters the Fritchie off four impressive outings, including victories in the Grade 3 Charles Town Oaks and the Safely Kept Stakes at Laurel. In her last outing, she set the pace until deep stretch in the Grade 1 La Brea at Santa Anita before being overtaken by the late-running Birdatthewire.
Given a short breather after that Dec. 26 runner-up effort, she returned to work five furlongs Jan. 27 at Belmont Park, then breezed a half-mile Sunday.
Lady Sabelia has been based at Laurel with trainer Robin Graham since her 2-year-old season of 2012. She was freshened last summer while Graham worked to get Lady Sabelia to relax following two spring defeats where she insisted on going to the lead. Lady Sabelia has since won the $100,000 Pumpkin Pie Stakes at Belmont by 7-1/4 lengths and the Willa On the Move at Laurel by 1-3/4 lengths.
Lady Sabelia comes into the Fritchie off a 10-week break but has a history of running well fresh. She worked a bullet five furlongs Sunday following two much slower works.
"She did it easily," Graham said of Lady Sabelia's drill, which was the best of 14 at the distance. "She started off easy, picked it up as she went, and then hit a new gear in the stretch. Everything's going just the way we hoped."
The Fritchie also includes Princess Violet, who finished second in the Fritchie a year ago for trainer Mike Hushion; Clothes Fall Off, who last out set a six-furlong Aqueduct inner-track record while winning a second-level optional race for Kiaran McLaughlin; and Wonder Gal, who was entered in a New York-bred optional claimer going 1-1/16 miles last Friday at Aqueduct that was canceled due to weather conditions.
The field also includes Dancing House, trained by McLaughlin, and Sweet on Smokey, a $12,500 claim by trainer Claudio Gonzalez in July who comes into this off a victory in the $75,000 What a Summer Stakes at Laurel.