Sibelius after his win in the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector Stakes at Gulfstream Park
Sometimes waiting for things makes them even sweeter. Trainer Jerry O’Dwyer has certainly been patient when it comes to having a runner at the Dubai World Cup meeting.
The Irish-born, US-based, handler flew to Dubai in 2020 to run Shotski in the G2 UAE Derby, only for the meeting to fall victim to the Covid-19 pandemic. Three years on, he’s back, this time with a live contender for the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen in Sibelius.
The winner of his last two starts; the G3 Mr Prospector Stakes at Gulfstream and the Listed Pelican Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, the 5-year-old has worked his way up to this level, having never run in a Group 1. However, O’Dwyer is confident that the six-time winner is up to the task.
“This has been the plan since the end of the last year, we’ve been thinking about it for a while,” he says. “It’s good money and great exposure if you have a horse who can be competitive.
“Sibelius is very straightforward; he lets you know when he’s feeling good and will train forwardly. He’s the best horse we have at the moment and he’s only getting good now – at the right time.”
O’Dwyer has followed a tried and tested route to the Golden Shaheen by prepping Sibelius in the Pelican Stakes, a race won prior to Meydan by Shaheen winners X Y Jet in 2018 and Zenden in 2021.
“The Pelican made my decision easier as it was perfect timing and gives me six weeks until the Shaheen,” continues O’Dwyer, who plans to complete most of Sibelius’ fast work before he leaves for Dubai on March 12th. “He’s probably a bit better fresh as he’s not hard to keep fit so we can back off him after his races. He might have a three eighths blowout at Meydan to stretch his legs over the track.
“I’m confident that it will suit him there. He’s traveled all over the country so he’s been over different tracks, deeper tracks. He’ll be forwardly placed in the race, but he doesn’t have to lead.”
Sibelius, who is ridden in the mornings by O’Dwyer’s assistant Chelsie Raabe, will have a new jockey for the six-furlong contest, in which he’s likely to face defending champion Switzerland, as well as US G2 winner Gunite.
“Junior Alvarado, who normally rides, has to stay in the States to ride Art Collector for Bill Mott but we have a very able deputy in Ryan Moore,” adds the trainer.
O’Dwyer, who rode more than 200 winners as a jockey in England and Ireland, moved to the States eight years ago, initially exercise riding before starting out on his training career with wife Alison.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do but had friends in Kentucky, so I went there and starting riding for Al Stall who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic that year with Blame,” he explains. “I fell in love with training – it’s a different feeling when you’re around good horses.”
To help Sibelius prepare for the walk between Dubai World Cup Quarantine and the track, O’Dwyer and Raabe have been extending the gelding’s exercise each morning.
“He goes out for an hour and walks the barns for 20 minutes so we’re trying to simulate the regime he’ll have in Dubai,” says the trainer, who has been taking advice from 10-time UAE Champion Jockey Tadhg O’Shea. “I’ve been out there and talked to people to find out the routine. In racing I find that people are usually happy to help.”
Sibelius is owned by Jun Park and Delia Nash, who have based the horse with O’Dwyer since the start of his career.
“The owners bought him as a weanling and thankfully every vet failed him as a yearling and so he came to me,” he continues. “They’ve been amazing to deal with and had a lot of confidence in me and let me back off or proceed as I like.”
If Sibelius were to win the Golden Shaheen, it would be the biggest success of O’Dwyer’s career, which has just undergone a transition.
“We started with three horses and then grew the business from there in Maryland,” he says. “The plan was always to get back on the bigger circuit so we came to Florida last season. We like it here now and we have some nice horses. We’ve also got some nice owners and we’d like some more nice owners!”
Having the eyes of the racing world on him in Dubai could just help with that.