Horowitz On OTTBs Presented by Excel Equine: Thoroughbred Influence At Kentucky’s Biggest Equine Sporting Events - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Horowitz On OTTBs Presented by Excel Equine: Thoroughbred Influence At Kentucky’s Biggest Equine Sporting Events

Sorocaima wins the first of two races in a row during a 10-day period at Presque Isle Downs

The next two weekends will bring out the best qualities of the Thoroughbred breed — the last weekend of April for the Thoroughbred sporthorse at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event and then the first weekend of May for the Thoroughbred racehorse at the Kentucky Derby.

The Kentucky Derby in Louisville is about showcasing the horses that will represent the breed in the national spotlight. Each year, there are special qualities to these Thoroughbreds and their connections that draw the most coverage and biggest audience that horse racing receives in the United States. The safest bet of the Kentucky Derby is that there will be something memorable, and maybe even legendary, about the winner.

The week before the Kentucky Derby is the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. This event showcases the qualities of the breed that allow the Thoroughbred to excel in the ultimate sporting test for equine athletes. It draws international competition and an international audience. Here's how the Olympic website describes the challenges eventing presents horse and rider:

“Eventing is the most complete combined competition discipline and demands of the competitor and horse considerable experience in all branches of equitation. It covers every aspect of horsemanship: the harmony between horse and rider that characterizes Dressage; the contact with nature, stamina and extensive experience essential for the Cross Country; the precision, agility and technique involved in Jumping.”

Although the breed was developed for racing, Thoroughbreds make excellent event horses because they possess a combination of the athleticism, bravery, and precise movement that the sport requires.

Here are the fascinating backgrounds and accomplishments of the racehorses that are now competing at the highest level of eventing.

SOROCAIMA: 12yo bay gelding bred in Kentucky (Rock Hard Ten – Sankobasi)

Sorocaima and Buck Davidson en route to a third-place finish in the 2021 Morven Park Fall International CCI4*-L

When Sorocaima made his CCI5*-L debut (the highest level of eventing) at the 2022 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, one of only seven “five-star” events in the world, he became the first Thoroughbred to complete all three phases with the most starts on the racetrack since Irish Rhythm (JC: Daniel Alexander) did so in 2014. Sorocaima and Irish Rhythm both raced 43 times.

The bay gelding sired by Rock Hard Ten out of the Pulpit dam Sankobasi held up well over a racing career that spanned four years. Following one start as a 2-year-old in December 2013, he ran 14 times in 2014, 15 times in 2015, and 13 in 2016 before his final career race as a 5-year-old in November 2016.

Sorocaima's best season was as a 4-year-old in 2015 when he won four races and finished in the top-two in nine of his 15 starts. This included consecutive wins at Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania nine days apart. However, after only hitting the board once in 13 starts the following year, Sorocaima's racing connections decided to retire him.

“The key for OTTBs — if they have the talent and they have the soundness and they have the athleticism, if you stop before they're injured, their careers can be spectacular,” said Carrie Brogden of Machmer Hall, who bred Sorocaima together with Poindexter Thoroughbreds.

Sorocaima, who goes by the barn name of “Cam,” quickly took to eventing. His first USEA-recognized event was at the Training level of 3'3” with Nilson Moreira Da Silva in January 2018. After Da Silva piloted Cam in his first eventing season and Karli Wright for his second, Buck Davidson began competing the horse in 2020. Jill Henneberg — who was a member of the U.S. eventing team that won a silver medal at the 1996 Olympics, the trainer for Wright, and a friend of Davidson's — reached out to Davidson about how he and Cam would be a great match.

“I have this horse you need to have” and “this has your name written all over it” is how Davidson described what Henneberg said about Sorocaima. Henneberg went so far as to bring Cam from Georgia to Florida to try out and left him with Davidson for a week.

“I just didn't have the guts to call her [to say no],” Davidson said. “It just seemed easier to buy the horse, and I'm glad I did. I absolutely love riding him.”

Cam did his first FEI events with Davidson and made it to the five-star level in 2022 at Kentucky and then at the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill only four years after his first USEA-recognized event.

“He keeps improving,” Davidson said. “He's just the ultimate trier. He's the reason that I love Thoroughbreds. He's sort of old-fashioned. He's by Rock Hard Ten. He's not crazy tall, but that sort of European horse you'd see at Cheltenham for the Gold Cup. He's got big bones, and he's not the little wiry speed horse. He looks like he'd excel on the turf, and honestly he should have been a Maryland Hunt Cup horse. He would have won that for sure. He's an absolute joy to ride every day. We teach him something new, and he learns it.”

Beyond his athletic ability, Cam also has the looks.

“I always like a horse that I can look in the eye,” Davidson said. “He has the most big, beautiful, calm, relaxed, eye that you would ever want in a horse. He's got the most beautiful classical head. His answer is always yes.”

In addition to competing Thoroughbreds at the highest levels of eventing, Davidson advocates on behalf of the breed as a board member for the Retired Racehorse Project.

“I love Thoroughbred horses; you're not going to beat a good Thoroughbred horse,” he said. “Cam is the epitome of a Thoroughbred.”

That's a feather in the cap for Sorcaima's breeders.

“The one thing I cherish on our farm and the land on our farm is soundness,” Brogden said. “He had bone like tree trunks. He had size and mass. He had a great brain. So to me, I love that they're getting that kind of soundness. He's been at the elite level for several years now, which is pretty amazing.”

PALM CRESCENT: 17yo dark bay gelding bred in New York (Quiet American – Edey's Village)

Palm Crescent's longevity and success as an eventer is matched by the longevity and success of his siblings on the racetrack.

In terms of longevity, Palm Crescent's dam, Edey's Village, also foaled the following warhorses:

  • Seamans Village (by Maria's Mon), a 2004 chestnut gelding, raced 47 times with 2 wins.
  • Parkinson Field (by Strategic Mission), a 2007 dark bay gelding, raced 46 times with 5 wins.
  • Echstein Village (by Freud), a 2008 chestnut gelding, raced 71 times with 8 wins.
  • Itsallaboutyou (by Harlington), a 2011 bay gelding, raced 97 times with 22 wins.

In terms of success, Watts Village (by Forestry) was a stakes winner in Japan and Korea. He made 19 starts, won eight of them, and finished in the top-three 15 times. He became the first Korean-trained horse to win a race outside of the country when he won the 2013 Japan-Korea Interaction Cup at Ohi Racecourse in Tokyo.

Palm Crescent's half-brother Watts Village won the 2015 Munhwa Ilbo Cup in Seoul, Korea, in the final race of his career

“Watts Village was a bit of a trailblazer with his win in Japan,” said Alastair Middleton, who works for the Korea Racing Authority's (KRA) international simulcast in various roles, including as a race caller and blogger.

Like Watts Village, Palm Crescent has been a trailblazer in the sport of eventing, and like his other brothers, he's been quite the war horse. On the track, Palm Crescent was a frontrunner like Watts Village. His one victory in 12 starts came when he led the entire way of a maiden race at Charles Town in West Virginia in December 2009.

After retiring from racing in April 2010, Palm Crescent, who goes by the barn name of “Palmer,” competed in his first USEA-recognized event in February 2011 with Jennifer Simmons. Then, Jan Byyny began competing Palmer in March 2011 and brought him up to the Preliminary level of 3'7”.

“He has a great mind; he's a beautiful type,” Byyny said. “You can't ever tell how good they're going to be, but I loved everything about him. His gallop was to-die-for, and I thought he was going to be good enough for the flat.”

When Byyny sold Palmer to a client, Chase Shipka, she said, “This horse will be your Kentucky horse. I guarantee he will go to Kentucky one day.”

After Shipka started focusing more on competing in dressage, Meagan O'Donoghue took over the mount and has campaigned Palmer since 2015.

O'Donoghue previously competed at the five-star level with the OTTB Pirate (JC: Pirate's Gold Star), who was bred and raced in Illinois, the same state where O'Donoghue grew up. She and Pirate competed three times in Kentucky in 2013, 2014, and 2015 and went over to England for Burghley in 2014. This will be Palm Crescent's third Kentucky five-star, plus he's competed at the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill and at Burghley.

“I'm so grateful for the two Thoroughbreds that I've had in my life to fly me all over the world,” O'Donoghue said. “I got to know the breed in general and appreciate them for their trainability and their heart and how useful they can be beyond the racetrack—whether it is making them up to be a top-level event horse or someone's amateur dream horse. They fit into so many different boxes.”

Byyny continues to follow the successes of her former horse and her former student. When it comes to Thoroughbreds, Byyny explained about O'Donoghue, “That's her jam, and that's a little bit my jam,” and said, “It's like a fairytale you would want to hear for a second career because the horse became exactly what I thought he would be.”

WABBIT (JC: MOLINARO KISSING): 13yo grey gelding bred in Ontario, Canada (Line of Departure – No Kissing

Wabbit and Jessica Phoenix at the 2022 Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill

You don't have to be a successful racehorse to succeed at the top levels of the sport of eventing. Known as Molinaro Kissing through five races at Woodbine in his home province of Ontario, Canada, in the summer of 2013, his best finish was a fifth-place in his debut.

The grey gelding has made more of a name for himself eventing under the name of Wabbit with Canadian Olympian Jessica Phoenix. This will be their third trip to the Kentucky Horse Park. In 2021, they finished 10th in the CCI4*-S held in conjunction with the CCI5*-L. Then, they moved up to the five-star level in Kentucky in 2022 but suffered a fall on cross-country. They completed their first five-star in the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill last October.


Twilightslastgleam and Jennie Saville at the 2022 Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill

Campground (Forest Camp – Kneel) and Twilightslastgleam (JC: Twilightslastgleem | National Anthem – Royal Child) initially trained for a racing career but were unraced. Both Campground, ridden by Erin Kanara, and Twilightslastgleam, ridden by Jennie Saville, made their five-star debuts at the 2022 Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill, finishing 15th and 16th, respectively.

In addition to these horses representing the Thoroughbred breed, other five-star entrants at the Land Rover Kentucky-Three Day Event have Thoroughbred influence through their dams.

Covert Rights is out of the OTTB dam Let's Get It Right. Let's Get It Right's sire is Covert Operation, thus the connection with the name Covert Rights. After three races at Pimlico in 1994, Let's Get It Right partnered with Colleen Rutledge up to the Advanced level of 3'11”, the highest national level offered under the governing body of the United States Eventing Association. Rutledge bred the chestnut mare to the Clydesdale-Thoroughbred stallion BFF Incognito. Now, she and Covert Rights will be competing in their seventh five-star, having first competed in Kentucky in 2015.

At 9 years old, Nemesis is the youngest horse in the Kentucky five-star field, and he's out of the Thoroughbred dam Sara's Muse by the showjumping stallion Novalis 46. His rider, James Alliston, has previous experience with OTTBs at eventing's highest level. He rode the gelding Parker (JC: Eastside Park | Marquetry – Hello Mom) at Kentucky. After starting to work with Nemesis, he and his wife, Helen Alliston, thought so highly of him that they reached back out to breeder Danielle Burgess in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, to see if she had any more horses available out of the same Thoroughbred dam. They bought Flinterro Z, who is one year younger than Nemesis. The brothers both won FEI levels at the 2023 Twin Rivers Spring International this month.

Overall, the Thoroughbred influence in eventing is strong, and the biggest races and events bring out the best in the breed.

“It's a special thing,” O'Donoghue said, “to see a horse go through the rigorous training of being a racehorse at such a young age and withstand that and then have this heart and open mind to learn a new trade and also fall in love with it because at some point in any discipline at some level they really have to love what they're doing.”

Announcing horse races inspired Jonathan Horowitz to become an advocate for off-track Thoroughbreds, as well as to learn to event on OTTBs and to expand his announcing of and writing about equine sports to horse shows around the United States. He also works for the United States Eventing Association and runs the Super G Sporthorses eventing barn with his wife, Ashley. He can be reached on Facebook and Twitter at @jjhorowitz.


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