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Jun Park and Deliah Nash’s 5-year-old millionaire gelding Sibelius, who used his win last year as a springboard to Group 1 glory, returns to make a title defense in Saturday’s $125,000 Mr. Prospector (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
The 69th running of the seven-furlong Mr. Prospector for 3-year-olds and up is among four $125,000 stakes on an 11-race Christmas weekend program, joined by the six-furlong Sugar Swirl (G3) for fillies and mares 3 and up, Tropical Park Derby for 3-year-olds and Tropical Park Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, both scheduled for 1 1/16 miles on the grass.
First race post time is 12:10 p.m.
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Sibelius will be attempting to become the first horse to win the Mr. Prospector in back-to-back years and just the second two-time winner, joining X Y Jet (2015, 2017). Steve Margolis (2003, 2004) and David Fawkes (Jan. 2011, Dec. 2011) are the only trainers since 1978 to take successive runnings
Based year-round at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County, Sibelius will be racing at his home track for the first time since a 2 ¼-length triumph in the Mr. Prospector on New Year’s Eve 2022.
Though he arrived at Gulfstream already a stakes winner, courtesy of the Lite the Fuse at Pimlico Race Course, and with graded-stakes experience, having run fourth by two lengths as the favorite in the Phoenix (G2) at Keeneland, Sibelius took a major step forward in last year’s Mr. Prospector.
“The manner in which he won the Mr. Prospector last year I think was very good. He jumped well, traveled strongly throughout the race and kind of drew off, which was visually impressive also, I thought,” trainer Jerry O’Dwyer said.
“Horses, they’re like us. They puff out their chest after a victory, especially when they get to travel smoothly in a race and kind of put horses away without having to work too hard which was kind of the performance he put up in the Mr. Prospector,” he added. “Horses do come back feeling good after that.”
Sibelius followed up with a stakes-record effort winning the six-furlong Pelican at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 11, also under jockey Junior Alvarado, and a dramatic nose victory over defending champion Switzerland with multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Gunite third in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) March 25.
“Maybe it’s the time of year where he’s best, I don’t know. We’ll find out this year. It’s going to be his second year in a row trying to take the same path,” O’Dwyer said. “We’re looking forward to it. I couldn’t be happier with the horse. Junior couldn’t be happier with him. We think we have him where we need him, and we’ll let him do the talking.”
Sibelius’ good looks, curious nature and outgoing personality made him a fan and social media favorite during his week in Dubai. He is winless in three tries since returning to North America, running fourth in the June 3 Aristides at Churchill Downs, seventh by 4 ¼ lengths in the July 29 Bing Crosby (G1) at Del Mar and fifth in the Phoenix Oct. 6.
“It was a fabulous experience, without a doubt,” O’Dwyer said of Dubai. “He did have to work very hard and it probably took more out of him than we anticipated and taken a little longer for the gas tank to fully replenish. But we’ve been patient with him, we haven’t overraced him, we’ve given him time. He’s just a great horse to be around and be associated with.
“Taking a journey like that to Dubai is every trainer’s dream and hopefully we can do it again next year,” he added. “That’s our goal, is to try and get back to Dubai with him. Obviously he’s got to show up in the Mr. Prospector and then maybe the Pelican again. That worked last year, but he’d have to show up in both those races to let us know that he’s on his ‘A’ game to take him back to Dubai. You’re taking on Grade 1 horses and you can’t be going there half-cocked. You have to be fully loaded.”
Sibelius has breezed five times since mid-November at Palm Meadows for his comeback, most recently going a half-mile in 48.30 seconds, second-fastest of 18 horses. Alvarado will ride back from outermost Post 9.
“He had a nice breeze the other day. Junior came in and breezed him. He was extremely happy with him and so was I, so it’s all systems go. He came out of the work good and he’s training away forwardly,” O’Dwyer said. “He loves being at Palm Meadows. It’s a wonderful facility, very tranquil, lots of space. It’s a big track to train over so nobody’s really on top of each other. He enjoys that. He likes standing out and taking in his surroundings and we’d like to keep it that way with him.”
At the opposite end of the gate is Holly Crest Farm’s 3-year-old New Jersey homebred Great Navigator, never worse than third in nine career starts with three wins. He is twice graded-stakes placed, having run second in the 2022 Sanford (G3) at 2 and third in his most recent effort, the Oct. 1 Vosburgh (G2) at Aqueduct. Finishing ahead of him that day were Cody’s Wish, back-to-back winner of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) and a candidate for Horse of the Year, and three-time Grade 2-placed Accretive.
The Vosburgh marked a cutback to seven furlongs after successive two-turn efforts over his home track at Monmouth Park.
“I think coming out of those two long races, he was much too relaxed and gave himself a little bit too much to do,” trainer Eddie Owens Jr. said. “I mean, he ran into some nice horses. The two horses that beat him, they were nice horses. Cody’s Wish was probably the best horse in the country at the time. [Accretive], he had the lead by himself, so I knew he was going to be tough to beat. Cody, he’s just a monster.”
Great Navigator will be facing older horses for the sixth straight race, twice beating his elders including a 10-length romp over fellow state-breds in the 1 1/16-mile Charles Hesse III Handicap Sept. 4.
“I was surprised how easy he did it,” Owens said. “He ran into a slow pace that day. They were going slow on the front end and I thought he wasn’t going to make it there, and then he just blew them away.”
Hector Diaz Jr. will be aboard for the first time in the Mr. Prospector.
“He’s been training down here very well,” Owens said. “I feel good. I think he’s going to run a big race. The post position, you don’t want to get stuck behind a lot of horses. Hopefully we get a good trip. If he runs his race, he’s going to be tough to beat.”
Grade 2 winner Howbeit and fellow multiple stakes-winning stablemate Winfromwithin, who have combined for 12 wins and $767,591 in purse earnings from 52 starts; 2022 Gallant Bob (G2) winner Scaramouche; Hurricane J, a front-running winner sprinting 6 ½ furlongs Nov. 19 at Gulfstream; Dreaming of Kona, promoted winner of Gulfstream’s one-mile Mucho Macho Man Jan. 1; Grade 1-placed Gilmore and 2019 Rebel (G2) winner Long Range Toddy complete the field.
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