When Sea Of Clouds showed - and earned - very little in his two lifetime starts on the racetrack, Sheikh Fahad Al Thani of Qatar Racing wasted no time finding him a happy and suitable alternative career. He had the right connections.
The son of Malibu Moon - Winner's Ticket (by Jolie's Halo) was in the barn of Graham Motion, and produced a seventh in maiden company at Penn National in November 2013 and a fifth against similar at Tampa Bay Downs in January 2014. Motion had recently sent multiple stakes winner Icabad Crane to Olympic three-day event rider Phillip Dutton and the quick changeover encouraged the sheikh and Motion to try the formula again.
Sea of Clouds, then just 3, went to Dutton's headquarters in West Grove, Pa., last year for assessment and evaluation. Immediately impressed, Dutton was so enthusiastic about the young prospect that he and wife Evie decided to share ownership of "Socs" with Sheikh Fahad and Graham and Anita Motion.
"I wouldn't usually rush to judgment so early in a horse's career," Dutton said, "but from what I've seen of Socs, I truly believe he has what it takes."
What it takes are good gaits and a bold jump - and Sea Of Clouds is the complete package. The $170,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland September may have found his niche, a long way from the racetrack.
"I'm real excited about him," Dutton continued. "He's got a great jump, a really wise, mature mind; and when it comes to jumping, he's very clever. Nothing seems to bother him too much. A lot of young horses, if something goes wrong they get flustered. Even for a very green horse, on the cross country he's very bold and is looking for the jumps. And bold and clever is exactly what you want."
Dutton compares the horse to a gifted child. While the temptation might be to fast-track him, every sequential step must be taken now in these early stages of his training to assure that he'll be mentally and physically prepared for the progressively difficult challenges ahead through the levels.
A horse cannot compete in a four-star event until age 8. Dutton hopes to get there, with a one star planned for 2016 and then successive steps to the highest rating. Sea Of Clouds graduated quickly from novice to training level, with two more horse srials scheduled during May before Dutton gives the gelding a break over the summer.
"My own personal opinion is that the best four-star horses are the best equine athletes out of all the different horse sports," he said. "To train a horse to get to this level is quite an achievement and takes years. Coming from someone who has done this for 25 years now, it is extremely rewarding to watch the horse learn, grow in confidence and wisdom and become a true partner with the rider. I'm thankful that his connections believed in Socs and sent him to us."
More from Dutton on the new prospect:
"It's like you have a gifted child but they can't skip any grades. It's important for Socs - he's very talented, but he's still got to go through every step all the way. At some stage, if he doesn't learn all the basic stuff then when he gets to the higher levels he'll have problems. He's got to learn and make some mistakes. You don't want bold and careless - you want bold and clever, which he is. He's got a beautiful walk and canter. His trot is not huge but I think we can improve on that. Everything is pretty easy for him and he has good conformation.
"He moved up to training quickly. But at some stage you've got to take your time with him, so it might as well be now. An event every month or so is fine, and then we'll probably give him a break over the summer. He's still maturing and filling out."