Thoroughbreds can do anything. By now, the ex-racehorses of the world have proven that to be true many times over – in rings, arenas, fields, paddocks, quite literally anywhere people want to take them.
The Maryland Five-Star, a high-level international three-day event in Fair Hill, Md. this month, offers yet another canvas with several Thoroughbreds among the 49 entrants. One cost $170,000 as a yearling, and lost his only two starts. Another never raced. One more started once over jumps in France. Another nobody really knows much about.
And one is Sorocaima.
His racing career didn’t exactly start out on a high note as he went postward at 147-1 for his debut at Gulfstream Park in late December 2013. The 2-year-old rewarded bettors (of other horses) by finishing last of 14, losing by 47 3/4 lengths. The next year didn’t get much better, as he lost 14 times in 2014 and opened 2015 with two more defeats to run the losing streak to 17. While racing for Peras Inernational and trainer Agustin Bezara, the son of Rock Hard Ten finished second twice, and third twice, but that was about it.
Enter new trainer Teresa Connelly and a road trip. She took Sorocaima with her string to Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa. for the track’s 2015 meet. To that point, the bay gelding had run nowhere but Florida and on dirt and turf. Presque Isle’s synthetic, all-weather track is Tapeta. Sorocaima took to it like a crab to sand.
He made 13 starts there that year – four wins, five seconds, three fourths and a sixth. For a run of nine consecutive races from June 11 to Sept 13, he finished first or second. The track helped, but that wasn’t everything.
“I’m kind of sad to admit but some people over face horses, you know like trying to get one to jump too big of a fence than they’re ready to jump,” Connelly said, comparing racing to eventing. “They’re the same as any other horse we’re trying to educate and if you get them beat enough times they know it. They learn to not like racing, they learn that it’s not fun and then they’re not competitive.”
Sorocaima raced at the $7,500 claiming level at Presque Isle, and changed his life.
“We dropped him down to lowest level where he could have an easy time of it, not have to try really hard and get beat again,” Connelly said. “He loved it. He didn’t disappoint. He really took to that track.”
Sorocaima went back to Presque Isle the next year, but couldn’t quite duplicate his 2015 feats and was retired by the end of that year. As it turned out, he was just getting started. Now part of the event barn of Buck Davidson, the 10-year-old has risen to the CCI four-star level and is among the entries for the inaugural five star at Fair Hill. Davidson entered three others, and might still opt out of the event Oct. 14-17 with the relative newcomer but expressed plenty of confidence too.
“I entered him at the last minute,” said Davidson, who added the horse to his barn in December 2019. “He might be one the best ones I have, but he’s the greenest one too. In another year’s time, he might be the winner of something like Fair Hill. This year would be to learn something, but we might still go to Morven Park with him instead (this week). He’s quite green for the level, but if he keeps going the way he’s going I’d be disappointed if he wasn’t in the top three in an event like that.”
Davidson’s confidence comes from his horse’s blend of physical and mental skills.
“Loads of ability and he tries like crazy,” Davidson said. “He’s super smart, typical Thoroughbred, and a good mover, he’s got a great jump, got a great, great brain.”
He’s got a pretty good life too. A recent training day involved a game of equine hide and seek in a Pennsylvania cornfield with Davidson and 5-year-old daughter Aubrey.
“She’s technically the owner, so I’ve got to make sure I do what the owner says and I I asked what should I do and she said, ‘Let’s go play hide and seek,’ ” Davidson said. “So instead of a dressage school, we did that. We’re having a lot of fun with him.”
Connelly loved to hear that, and recalled a horse who bobbed his head to the music on the barn radio.
“He was a bit of a silly horse in the barn, kind of a cool dude and I remember him,” she said. “It makes me happy and proud that he’s come through the ranks sound enough to have a second career like that. I so get that he events. I was galloping some of my own and he could get strong, but he was lovely to ride.”
Nicknamed “Zoro” in the Connelly barn, Sorocaima goes by “Cam” now and continues to reward Davidson for following the advice of 1996 Olympic silver medalist Jill Henneberg to purchase the prospect. Henneberg bought Sorocaima from Brazlian rider Nilson Moreira Da Silva as a mount for young rider Karli Wright. Sorocaima's path to eventing began when Connelly left him with her father-in-law Rex Connelly and trainer Amy Randolph after the Presque Isle meet ended in 2016. After two starts at Mountaineer and one at Penn National late that year, Sorocaima was sold to event trainer/rider Matthew Bryner.
Bryner will remember the first impression for a while.
"I found him on the CANTER website (a source of Thoroughbreds looking for second careers) and instantly drove out there about two hours from me, trailer in tow and I loved his eye and his soundness so we brought him home, not knowing anything about him other than he was so kind and fancy. I had him for a short bit of time before he caught the eye of Nilson DeSilva and sadly he was sold on. It was a hard sell for me . . . It makes me so happy to see where he is today."
Wright, the young rider in Henneberg's barn, and Sorocaima evented together for most of 2019, winning twice at the training level and competing at the American Eventing Championships.
“They were really successful at the novice level, training level, but he was just more athletic and more of a horse than what she needed at that time,” said Henneberg. “She needed more of a kick ride. She had another horse at the time, Master Eli, who was very experienced. We just sort of discovered that was more her ride. That was where she was better.”
Sorocaima was 8 at the time, and a potential prospect for a professional rider heading to the upper levels. Davidson fit the bill, almost made the purchase via video but really connected during a few rides at his winter base in Ocala, Fla.
“He’s everything you could possibly want in a Thoroughbred,” said Henneberg. “I said the show jumping would be his weakest phase, just because he has a hard time putting it all together. The jumps are not the problem. It’s the little things. It’s very hard to find horses that are naturally brave but incredibly smart. When he gets to the jumps, you can feel him start to think. Even when he doesn’t understand something there isn’t a mean bone in his body. He’s like, ‘I’ll try, I’ll figure it out.’ He and Buck make a great team and I’m excited to see what the future brings.”
The career gear-shifting came as no surprise to Carrie Brogden, whose Machmer Hall Farm co-bred Sorocaima with Poindexter Thoroughbreds. They chose Rock Hard Ten as a stallion for broodmare Sankobasi to add some size to the equation, and got plenty.
“We called him a Kentucky galloper, that’s what I call horses like that anyway. They look like they could gallop for 3 miles and that’s kind of what he’s turned into. He didn’t look fast, as in a racehorse fast. He had bones like tree trunks, though. He was a big, strong, plain yearling. He had 43 starts on the track so he was sound, sound, sound. He was correct, didn’t have issues, it’s just that when we sold him as a yearling he did not look fast and he was not fast.”
The breeders got $32,000 for their yearling, watched him fail to sell as a 2-year-old, get through a long racing career and eventually find a niche.
“I’m delighted, thrilled for him, I hope he kicks butt,” said Brogden. “I grew up in the show-hunter world and I love that they have second careers. It’s wonderful to see.”
Race Is On
Beyond Sorocaima, the Thoroughbred squad at Fair Hill – at the overhauled events facility owned by the Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources – goes in all directions and includes:
- Sea Of Clouds. Now part of Olympic rider Phillip Dutton’s barn in Pennsylvania, the 10-year-old raced just twice for Qatar Racing and trainer Graham Motion ($200 in earnings) in 2014. As an eventer, the son of Malibu Moon has climbed through the levels since making his debut in 2019. Sea Of Clouds has placed seventh or better six times this year including a win at Pine Top in February.
- Indy 500. Her Jockey Club name is My Gifted Indyanna, but the 13-year-old mare never raced. The California-bred, a daughter of Cromwell and the Spend A Buck mare Tensofthousands, is part of rider Andrea Baxter’s eventing barn and won a four star at Twin Rivers in September. She’s also the dam of an event horse, four-star competitor Laguna Seca.
- Tight Lines. Bred in France, the 14-year-old gelding pulled up in his only start over chase fences at Auteuil. Now with Will Coleman, the son of Turgeon has been an eventer since 2019 and was ninth in an intermediate event at Fair Hill last summer.
- Jak My Style. Davidson’s mount adds some mystery as the unraced gelding sold at an estate sale in New Jersey before rising through the eventing ranks topped by three top 10 finishes this summer and an advanced win at Chattahoochee Hills in April.
The Maryland Five Star at Fair Hill starts Thursday, Oct. 14 and continues through Sunday, Oct. 17. For more, information, see the Maryland Five Star website.