Oxford native part of $2 million horse race win in Dubai

On March 25, Oxford native Chelsie Raabe watched as her training horse Sibelius crossed the finish line in a $2 million purse victory at the Dubai Golden Shaheen.

Meanwhile, some 7,000 miles away in Oxford, The Raabe family caught the action on TV during its Fox Sports 2 broadcast. The proud parents took the commemoration to social media, as two separate posts on Facebook celebrating the accomplishment reached over 750 likes and 100 comments within a week.

Chelsie said she received more than 300 messages in the 48 hours after her race. A week later, she’s still trying to respond to each of them.

“I’ve won plenty of races, and I have never gotten but maybe five or six texts after a race,” Chelsie said. “But it was like everyone I knew, I really appreciated that they watched or they were rooting for [Sibelius] or that they cared.”

For Chelsie, the first-place finish further cemented a family legacy of horse racing that mother Sande Nielson Raabe says has been prominent since the 1900s in Wyoming.

“She’s been falling [off horses] before she was born,” Sande Raabe said. “Which really just means I fell off [horses] before she was born.”

Chelsie’s humble equestrian beginnings started on her parent’s Somerville farm near Oxford, owned by “Miami Mergers” Sande and Don Raabe.

“She’s been riding a horse from before she could really even sit on them,” Don Raabe said. “You had to hold her on there.”

As Chelsie grew older, she participated in equestrian events such as 4-H, the local pony club, and FFA. Chelsie said she also became inspired by watching horse racing on TV, especially the hall-of-fame racing horse Zenyatta.

As a student at Talawanda High School and at Miami University, Chelsie rode show ponies and found various jobs working at the Hueston Woods Lodge as a waitress and bartender to help support her equestrian hobby.

“She has worked so hard with no support,” Sande Raabe said. “You know, she’s out there showing against all these rich kids, and she has to earn all the money herself.”

When she wasn’t bussing tables or fulfilling drink requests, she’d work with a U.S. equestrian Olympian.

“Every summer, I worked for two-time Olympian Dorothy Crowell,” Chelsie said. “I always had two or three jobs I was working while I rode my horses.”

After graduating from Miami University with a degree in integrative studies in 2013, Raabe found her way down to Ocala, Florida, at the so-called “Horse Capital of the World.” Her job would be to help train and manage horses under trainer Jeremiah O’Dwyer.

“I am an exercise rider and an assistant trainer, I oversee the day-to-day operations in the barn,” Chelsie said. “I did a lot of communicating with the grooms, communicating with the vets, communicating with the boss, I’m basically like a manager.”

While she doesn’t ride the horse on race day like a typical jockey would, she’s practicing with them every other day of the week.

“As an exercise rider, I’m given instructions by the boss or technically myself since I’m one of the bosses,” Chelsie said. “We train the horses, and we teach the horses the skills they need to be successful in the races.”

Chelsie’s horse she’s worked with the most recently under O’Dwyer is a five-year-old male named Sibelius, who was born in Kentucky.

An up-and-comer, Sibelius most recently won the Mr. Prospector Group Three race in Hallandale Beach, Florida, in late December 2022. That victory drew the attention of equestrian scouts worldwide and earned an invite to the Riyadh Sprint in Saudi Arabia.

“When we were invited to that race, we heard the rumors that we were also going to be invited to the Dubai race,” Chelsie said of the prestigious Golden Shaheen.

Once the invitation came, Chelsie knew it would be her biggest competition yet. Chelsie compared the moment she found out to “being invited to the Olympics.”

“I came back on a horse into the barn, and [O’Dwyer] goes, check your email, I forwarded you something,” Chelsie said. “And he was like off looking at a horse and then I was like, ‘Oh my God, we got the invitation.”

The trip to Dubai meant the small-town Oxford native would be going out of the country for the first time into a city with more than 5.6 million people; which is more than 250 times bigger than Oxford’s population.

On March 12, Chelsie flew out to Dubai. A day later, Sibelius followed.

“It was incredible. I’ve always wanted to go to a place, to travel as far as I can, since I was a kid,” Chelsie said. “I’ve never imagined a place that was more different from where I grew up.”

Chelsie said her experience in the big city couldn’t have been better.

“It was beautiful, it was clean, and just the cultural aspect was really interesting,” Chelsie said. “Whatever question I came up with, everyone was extremely happy and interested to talk about it.”

In between practice riding sessions, Chelsie made friends with other trainers and staff members and toured the city.

“I had to be at the barn twice a day,” Chelsie said. “And in between those times, I was planning activities because I didn’t know if I’ll ever make it out here again, and I want to see as much an experience as much as I possibly can.”

On March 25, after weeks of practicing in Florida and Dubai, race day came. Chelsie said she wasn’t nervous and remembered a piece of advice from Sibelius’ foreman named Ricardo.

“I was not nervous … Ricardo had given me a pretty serious lecture multiple times about how I was absolutely not allowed to get nervous,” Chelsie said. “Because Sibelius is very very sensitive, and very in tune with his people, and so if you get nervous, Sibelius will get nervous.”

Chelsie said she was confident in her horse, which helped with the nerves, even with projections saying Sibelius would finish in the middle of the pack.

“I just felt like there had been omens all week like I just knew he was gonna win,” Chelsie said. “And a lot of people felt the same way, it just felt like there was no way he could have not won.”

Walking Sibelius down to race day jockey Ryan Moore, Chelsie said she was unfazed, but after she gave her final goodbyes before the race and turned to walk away, reality set in.

“It was a lot, there’s so many representatives from different countries, you see like the Middle Eastern camera set up and sports announcers,” Chelsie said. “All the different people from all different countries have their camera and crew and media people there.”

“I got nervous,” Chelsie said.

As the gates opened and Sibelius sprinted out, filtering into the middle of the pack.

“He didn’t break out of the gates as fast as he normally does,” Chelsie said. “Like normally he comes out of the gates like a rocket and he was just a little bit slow coming out of the gates.”

Sibelius, with his bright green and pink jockey on top, sat comfortably in 7th place throughout the race.

“I was like ‘Oh my God, he’s never had to pass this many horses before,’” Chelsie said. “I was just like ‘We’re not going to win.’”

With 300 meters left to go, Sibelius advanced to fourth place and made a last-ditch sprint to the finish.

“He dug in really deep, and he got to the front,” Chelsie said. “And it was just like, I think we were all crying.”

Beating incumbent winner Switzerland by a neck’s length, Sibelius finished first with a time of 1 minute and 10.69 seconds.

“This was like going to the Olympics,” Chelsie said. “It’s like I finally was on basically the world stage, doing a sport with a horse I love.”

Meanwhile, in Oxford, after watching her daughter win on TV, Don Raabe remembers feeling a different moment in Chelsie’s life was her biggest.

“I think the biggest moment was her just hanging on,” Don Raabe said. “For her, it’s just like the stars came in alignment with this particular horse.”

About the Author