Kirkpatrick & Co. Presents In Their Care: Sibelius A Life-Changing Horse For Chelsie Raabe - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Kirkpatrick & Co. Presents In Their Care: Sibelius A Life-Changing Horse For Chelsie Raabe

Chelsie Raabe with Sibelius at Tampa Bay Downs prior to his victory in the Pelican Stakes

Sibelius needed an exercise rider who could smooth his rough edges and take him to an elite level. Chelsie Raabe needed him much more.

Although Raabe had ridden since she was young, she never planned to enter the racing world after her graduation from Miami University in Ohio with a bachelor's degree in wide-ranging integrative studies. But she found herself moving from one racing job to another, experiencing the good and the very bad until she threw up her hands in despair in recent years.

“I just felt like I was so burnt out,” said Raabe, now 34. “I'm not enjoying this. I don't like this. I just needed to figure out what to do with my life.”

The native of Oxford, Ohio, worked as a photographer at Saratoga Race Course in the summer of 2022 while galloping horses for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher each morning. As that meet neared an end, the uncertainty of her future weighed on her. She discussed her roiling emotions with Alison O'Dwyer, a long-time friend and the wife of trainer Jerry O'Dwyer.

O'Dwyer mentioned that her husband was looking for help with a small string of horses that he was sending to Keeneland last autumn. There would be an opportunity for her to work with then 4-year-old Sibelius, an emerging talent.

Raabe will never forget the first time she rode the gelded son of Not This Time. “Nice horses, they give you a different energy than horses lacking in quality,” she said.

She was filled with excitement when she returned to the barn and spoke to co-worker Ricardo Barajas. “Ricardo, this horse is going to be a freak,” she told him. “He's not a freak yet, but he's going to be.”

Chelsie Raabe aboard Sibelius at Meydan in Dubai

Raabe identified a couple of major sources of improvement.

“He was so confident, but to me he was not relaxed,” she said. “He was a little unsettled while he was training.”

In addition, she wanted Sibelius to generate more power from his back muscles. “I want them working from their hind end because their hind end is the motor,” she explained.

Raabe also credits jockey Junior Alvarado with helping Sibelius to become braver during races. “He was a little wimpy about passing horses,” she admitted.

The 5-2, 125-pound Raabe used her legs and soft hands to communicate with her rising star. “I cannot force a horse to do anything,” she said. “I can finesse a horse to do a lot of things.”

Word has it that she may bribe him with an array of treats. “He's definitely more spoiled since she started riding him, that's for sure,” Jerry O'Dwyer said.

Whatever the means, Raabe helped take the handsome chestnut where owners Jun Park and Delia Nash wanted him to go. With Alvarado aboard for all three races, he narrowly missed in the Nov. 13 Bet on Sunshine Stakes at Churchill Downs before sweeping the Dec. 31 Mr. Prospector Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park and the Feb. 11 Pelican Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

O'Dwyer credits much of that success to Raabe's smart handling during training.

“When he gallops, he wants to do a little too much. Good horses get that way,” he noted. “But Chelsie does a good job of keeping him calm and relaxed.”

O'Dwyer added of Raabe: “She is a horsewoman and an exercise rider. Sometimes they don't go hand in hand.”

The front-running victory in the Pelican was followed by an invitation to compete in the $2-million Dubai Golden Shaheen on March 25 at Meydan Racecourse. Raabe's great adventure began when they flew halfway around the world two weeks before the 1,200-meter (approximately six furlongs) confrontation with the world's greatest sprinters.

Sibelius, inside, winning the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen

Sibelius, praised by Raabe for his intelligence and lovable demeanor, handled everything with aplomb. Knowing that there is a 30-minute walk from the stable area to the track at Meydan, Sibelius had been walking a comparable distance at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla. Curious by nature, he loved the sights and sounds. He handled the rigorous travel as if he was a million-mile frequent flier. When photographers rushed toward him in Dubai, he was happy to oblige them.

“Everything went exactly the way we wanted it to,” Raabe said. “There wasn't a day where I was like, 'Oh, I didn't like that.' It was just easy. Every step of the entire process was incredibly easy.”

Sibelius stayed connected to Ricardo Barajas through daily phone conversations, including one on race day. “I don't know what Ricardo said to that horse in Spanish, but that horse stood statue still,” Raabe said. “He was intensely paying attention to whatever Ricardo said.”

When it came time for Sibelius to enter the track, Raabe was overcome with emotion. When she thought of how far she and her beloved horse had come, she sobbed.

Chelsie Raabe with Sibelius

Her heart sank when the gates snapped open. Sibelius normally rockets to the front. This time, at the worst possible time, he failed to break sharply and was shuffled back. Ryan Moore, who had replaced Alvarado because Alvarado had major commitments in the United States, was left with much to do with a mount that had not been the most courageous earlier in his career.

Raabe was heartened as Sibelius began to gain ground. Then there was an opening on the inside. The much-improved Sibelius, no longer a wimp, fought for all he was worth.

“He dug in deep,” Raabe said. “He wanted to win that race.”

And he did, fending off defending champion Switzerland by a nose for his first Grade 1 triumph. Whatever happens from here, Raabe will always treasure her time with the horse of her dreams.

“Sibelius has changed my life. He gave me that love back for working with horses in general,” said Raabe, knowing how awful it can be to feel lost.

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