HALLANDALE BEACH, FL—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 Grade 3 Mr. Prospector at Gulfstream Park.

The $125,000 Mr. Prospector for 3-year-olds and older traveling seven furlongs 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; Tropical Park Derby for 3-year-olds and Tropical Park Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, both scheduled for eight-and-a-half furlongs on the grass.

First race post time is 12:10 p.m.

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 Florida-bred 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, Sibelius will be racing at his home track for the first time since a two-and-a-quarter-length triumph in the Mr. Prospector on New Year’s Eve 2022.

Though he arrived at Gulfstream already a stakes winner, courtesy of the $100,000 Lite the Fuse in September of 2022 at Pimlico Race Course, 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 $75,000 Pelican at Tampa Bay Downs on 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 Grade 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen sponsored by Nakheel 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.”

He is winless in three tries since returning to North America, running fourth in the $224,000 Aristides won by Gunite in June at Churchill Downs, seventh behind winner The Chosen Vron in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby (G1) at Del Mar in July and fifth in the Phoenix won by Hoist the Gold on Oct. 6.

Sibelius has seven wins with three second and three thirds with earnings of $1,670,351 and Junior Alvarado will ride the son of Not This Time from post nine.

At the opposite end of the gate is Holly Crest Farm’s 3-year-old homebred Great Navigator, never worse than third in nine career starts with three wins. He is twice graded-stakes placed, having run second to Mo Strike in the 2022 Sanford (G3) as a 2-year-old; and third in his most recent effort in the Grade 2 Vosburgh (G2) won by Cody’s Wish at Aqueduct on Oct. 1.

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.”

Hector Diaz Jr. will be aboard for the first time in the Mr. Prospector.

Rounding out the field are Howbeit and rider Joe Bravo, Scaramouche with jockey John Velazquez, Winfromwithin has Luis Saez named to ride, Hurricane J and pilot Irad Ortiz Jr., Dreaming of Kona with Scott Spieth, Jose Ortiz rides Gilmore and Long Range Toddy with Emisael Jaramillo in the saddle.

Return to the December 22 issue of Wire to Wire