By Steve Sherack
After airing in front-running fashion in Pimlico's Lite the Fuse S. with a career-high 105 Beyer Speed Figure earlier this month–his second straight triple digit rating–progressive 4-year-old sprinter Sibelius (Not This Time) is getting good at the right time.
Just how good, exactly? That question will be answered in Keeneland's 'Win and You're In' GII Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix S. on opening day Oct. 7.
“I'm a big believer in horses getting confident when they win,” trainer Jerry O'Dwyer said. “When they back it up, back-to-back like he has, he's walking around there with his chest out and looking and feeling good.”
The Jun H. Park and Delia Nash colorbearer ended a five-race losing skid with a sharp victory over a trio of next-out winners while cutting back to six furlongs in an optional claimer at Saratoga Aug. 10, good for a 100 Beyer, prior to his aforementioned 7 1/2-length romp in Baltimore Sept. 10.
The chestnut gelding also ran well in defeat in his two previous trips to the post while third with first-time blinkers behind subsequent GIII Monmouth Cup winner Highly Motivated (Into Mischief) going a one-turn mile at Belmont May 28 and also filled that same slot behind GISP Baby Yoda (Prospective) in upstate New York going seven furlongs July 16, respectively.
“He's a horse that we've always liked and he's always shown some natural ability,” O'Dwyer said. “I think now being a 4-year-old, he's reaching his peak performance, maturity and strength wise. Mentally, he's in a great place. He couldn't have been any more impressive in his last win at Pimlico. Just the way he jumped out and traveled nicely and opened up in hand. After running a big number in Saratoga the time before, you like to see them back it up to something equivalent. He stepped up again, which is nice.”
The six-furlong Lite the Fuse was Sibelius's first attempt versus stakes company since a trio of disappointing stakes tries last season, including a distant fifth in a sloppy renewal of the rained-off GIII Penn Mile S. in his first go versus winners last May. He was previously a big-figure maiden winner at second asking at Keeneland, site of this year's GI Breeders' Cup Sprint.
“I think it took him a little while to get his confidence back,” O'Dwyer said. “His works at home were always very good. You could tell he had a lot of ability. I started stretching him out a bit because in the sprint races, he wasn't traveling strongly on the bridle like he is now. Even when we stretched him out, he ran super [finishing second] over the one-turn mile at Aqueduct [Apr. 2].
O'Dwyer continued, “But then his works just started getting so much stronger and sharper. He's been giving us all the right signals. We started gradually cutting him back in distance and he's been showing us that he's just an out-and-out sprinter now. Super fast and sharp.”
With six starts at three and already eight attempts under his belt this season, Sibelius isn't the kind of horse that needs a lot of work in between starts. Currently residing at the Thoroughbred Training Center in Kentucky, Sibelius is slated to join the South Florida-based O'Dwyer's Keeneland string Friday.
Bred in Kentucky by Taylor Brothers Properties LLC, Pollock Farms, Patrick H. Payne, et al, Sibelius brought $100,000 as a KEENOV weanling. He subsequently RNA'd twice–for $62,000 at KEEJAN and for $75,000 at KEESEP. Out of the unraced Pulpit mare Fierey Pulpit, he is a half-brother to MSP Dypsy (Broken Vow), dam of MSW & MGISP Edwards Going Left (Midnight Lute). Sibelius is one of 22 stakes winners for promising young sire Not This Time.
“He's very straightforward,” O'Dwyer said. “He's not a big, robust horse. He looks very muscular and doesn't carry too much excess flesh. He'll get a lot out of his gallops if you let him. So, we keep him under wraps a little bit. He'll just have a blowout on Friday, maybe an easy half mile in :49 or something like that. I'll see how he is over the next couple of days.”
After beginning his career as a jockey in Ireland and England, O'Dwyer came to the U.S. to gallop for trainer Al Stall, Jr. He also worked under trainers Bill Mott, Michael Matz and Andrew McKeever before going out on his own in 2014. Shotski (Blame) became the first graded winner for O'Dwyer with an upset victory in the 2019 GII Remsen S. at Aqueduct.
Should Sibelius earn his way to the Breeders' Cup Sprint via next week's Phoenix, it would be the first starter in the World Championships for O'Dwyer.
“We want to be there on the big days,” O'Dwyer said. “We're fortunate that he's given us a bit of a highlight this year. We're hoping he can continue to do that.”