American speedster Sibelius dethroned locally-based Switzerland in a whirlwind finish to Saturday’s $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) at Meydan. Gunite, who had looked on the way to victory wearing down fellow American Hopkins, was swamped late in third.
Trained by Jerry O’Dwyer for Jun Park and Delia Nash, Sibelius brought a progressive profile into this debut at the top level. But his success was perhaps not exactly how handicappers might have mapped it out.
Given his rail draw and blistering speed, Sibelius figured to be involved in the pace. That’s how he earned his first stakes score, in last September’s Lite the Fuse S. at Pimlico, and his latest, the Feb. 11 Pelican S. at Tampa Bay Downs. The Not This Time gelding had also been handy when capturing the Dec. 31 Mr. Prospector (G3) two back at Gulfstream Park.
But Sibelius wasn’t quick into stride on Dubai World Cup night. British ace Ryan Moore, who picked up the mount from Fair Grounds-bound Junior Alvarado, had to scrub him along to get position. Still, he was working to try to stay in touch, and his prospects appeared to dim when he was shuffled back a bit.
Hopkins had grabbed the lead, pressed by Sound Money, with the looming presence of Gunite out wide. As Sound Money weakened in upper stretch, Gunite had Hopkins in his grasp in what shaped like a two-horse battle to the wire.
Yet Sibelius clawed his way back in the hunt. Grinding away on the inside under a Moore drive, he relentlessly overhauled Gunite and Hopkins. But defending champion Switzerland was storming on the outside, and he drew just about level with Sibelius as they flashed past. The nerve-wracking photo showed that Sibelius had his nose down before Switzerland in a final time of 1:10.69.
Gunite, a half-length away in third, was the same margin up on Hopkins. Next came the Japanese closers Remake and Red le Zele, trailed by Tuz, C Z Rocket, Sound Money, 2-1 favorite Lemon Pop, Super Ocho, Justin, Mouheeb, and Road Bloc.
Sibelius paid $19.60 while boosting his bankroll to more than $1.6 million from a 19-7-3-3 line.
“The race worked out quite the way I had predicted,” O’Dwyer said. “You know you can read these races a hundred times but it will never go the same way. To be honest, he just sat back in the gates and was a bit slow but when you have a master rider like Ryan Moore, he gets you out of trouble.”
“I was very lucky to pick up the ride,” Moore said. “He actually stepped a little slowly, I was a half-length further behind than I wanted to be. We had a charmed run, they just drifted off which meant we didn’t have to change lanes and the horse dug in really deep. He showed a lot of courage and heart to get there.
“He has form over a little bit further, which I think really helped too.”
Switzerland’s connections were gutted by his near-miss at the grand old age of nine.
“It’s hard to get beat like that; he did everything right,” trainer Bhupat Seemar said. “These horses, if you take care of them, they pay you back. We had a plan to just give him two races and keep the miles off his legs, and I thought we had it there.”
Considering Seemar’s experience with ageless sprinters like Reynaldothewizard, it would be no surprise if Switzerland is back to try again next year.
“He’s a tough horse,” stable jockey Tadhg O’Shea said. “He’s done everything right, he’s just unfortunate to come out the wrong side of a photo, but he’s lost nothing in defeat.”
Gunite’s team thought that his wide draw was a factor.
“My horse ran a huge race and a good effort from him,” jockey Tyler Gaffalione said. “Post position 13 might have cost us in the long run to give a bit of ground, but he followed right off to the finish. Hats off to the winner.”
“It was another great run,” Steve Asmussen’s assistant Scott Blasi said, “and this horse shows up every single time. Our gate meant we probably had to compromise, and Tyler had to use him a little harder than we would have wanted to so he could get position getting into the first turn, but a solid run and he keeps progressing.”