4YO Gelding Set to Make Next Start in Oct. 7 Phoenix (G2) At Keeneland
BALTIMORE, Md.— Having proven himself against a solid field of stakes winners, Jun Park and Delia Nash’s Sibelius is ready to take the next step in a progression his connections hope land the 4-year-old gelding in the Breeders’ Cup this fall.
Sibelius exited his dominating 7 ½-length triumph in the $100,000 Lite the Fuse Sept. 10 at historic Pimlico Race Course in good order, and the son of Not This Time will be aimed at a return to graded competition in the Phoenix (G2) Oct. 7 at Keeneland, where South Florida-based trainer Jerry O’Dwyer plans to keep a small string.
The Phoenix serves as a ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifier to the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) Nov. 5, also at Keeneland. The Lite the Fuse, Phoenix and Sprint are all contested at six furlongs.
“He’s looking good. Obviously he’s expected to be a little tired the following day and he was a little bit, but he’s back bouncing out there again and we’re going to aim him for Keeneland,” O’Dwyer said. “It was a super effort the other day. He was pretty good.”
Sibelius was the only non-stakes winner in a field of six for the Lite the Fuse that included May 21 Maryland Sprint (G3) winner Jaxon Traveler along with Nimitz Class, Quick Tempo, Wendell Fong and Wudda U Think Now. Still, Sibelius was made the 2-1 program favorite for the race and went off at 9-5, just 10 cents more than post time favorite Jaxon Traveler.
Pressed on the lead through a half-mile by Quick Tempo, Sibelius took a 4 ½-length cushion into the stretch when Jaxon Traveler launched his bid but was unable to make up ground as the winner pulled away under a hand ride from Junior Alvarado to finish up in 1:09.30. Alvarado came in from New York to ride Sibelius for the second straight time, following a 3 ¾-length optional claiming allowance triumph Aug. 10 at Saratoga, also sprinting six furlongs.
“It surprised me how easily he won the last race, to be honest. He was taking on some stakes winners. Going into the race I thought it was a very good spot for him to take the next step, but [you’re] taking on the likes of Jaxon Traveler who is a very nice horse and ran a hell of a race,” O’Dwyer said. “It’s very pleasing when you see your horse win and put a nice horse like that away like he did. I think Jaxon Traveler ran his race, but I just think our horse was the best horse on the day.”
Sibelius made his career debut running second in a maiden special weight last March at Laurel Park, graduated at second asking then went unplaced in three consecutive stakes including the Concern at Pimlico. The Lite the Fuse was his first stakes attempt since finishing sixth in the Robert Hilton Memorial last August at Charles Town.
His effort in the Lite the Fuse earned Sibelius a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 105 and his second straight in triple digits, following a 100 for his race at Saratoga. His numbers have improved each time out for five consecutive races.
“It’s going to be a big ask trying to win a ‘Win and You’re In’ race, but if he was to win it the owners would be keen and I’d be keen as his trainer to take a shot [in the Breeders’ Cup],” O’Dwyer said. “When they run a career-best Beyer you always want to see them back it up. It gives you a bit of confidence that he’s definitely on the improve and going the right way.”
O’Dwyer’s confidence is further bolstered by the fact that Sibelius’ maiden victory came sprinting 6 ½ furlongs in his only previous try at Keeneland, where he was the narrow favorite over 11 rivals last April.
“You like to see them perform over the course that you’re going back running over. I don’t have much worries about him going to any track. He’s performed well at lots of different tracks now,” he said. “I think this is his year where he’s finally maturing, developing and getting stronger and turning into the horse that we thought he might be.”
O’Dwyer started out in the Midwest, winning his first career race at Belterra Park in 2014, before moving to the Maryland circuit where he was primarily based between 2017 and 2021 until relocating to Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s Park’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County, to start this year.
“Maryland will always be a special place for me. It really helped get me going and praise God we’ll have plenty of more runners there,” O’Dwyer said. “I love being in Florida. It’s a great environment. I want to be based there but I still want to be able to travel the circuit and take some nice horses and be able to do the Keenelands and Churchills and Saratogas. That’s the main objective and goal.”
Should Sibelius earn his way to the Breeders’ Cup, it would be the first starter in the World Championships for O’Dwyer, who began as a jockey in Ireland and England before coming to the U.S. to gallop for trainer Al Stall Jr. and subsequently working for trainers Bill Mott, Michael Matz and Andrew McKeever until going out on his own.
O’Dwyer’s best horses include multiple stakes winner Needs Supervision and V.I.P. Ticket as well as 2019 Remsen (G2) winner Shotski, his lone graded-stakes triumph to date. He also trains 3-year-old stakes winner and 2021 Nashua (G3) runner-up Cooke Creek, who will rejoin him at Keeneland following some time off.
“Those are the days you want to be taking part in. That’s why we do this,” O’Dwyer said. “We’re all in it for the big days and the exciting days and that’s where we want to be. That’s what gets you up every morning, having a horse like Sibelius there. It took a while for him to come around, but I always did like him. I think he’s a later-developing horse that’s just reaching his full potential.”
David Joseph/Maryland Jockey Club
Main photo: Sibelius scores the win in the Lite the Fuse (Jim McCue/MJC)