“You’re late! Hurry up! You’re going to be fined!” yelled the trainer.
Jolted into action, Jo Beth Kemp mustered her groom and her regal racehorse Sea Elephant, and dashed from the stabling area at Belmont Park, through a tunnel, up a ramp, and into the saddling area where everyone was frantically preparing for the next race.
As Kemp and her team swept into the paddock, one racehorse got loose, sending people and horses scrambling in a brief burst of bedlam.
But in the heat of the moment, her normally well-behaved steed did something startling, and some might even say, looking back on it now, prophetic.
“He jumped the entire length of the park bench in the middle of the saddling area!” Kemp says. “I turned around to look, and all of a sudden, my horse is flying in the air.
“That bench must have been six feet long, and he cleared it.”
That was July 21, 2001. Sea Elephant came in first that day, winning a $42,000 purse. But his career as a racehorse was short lived.
Instead, his destiny was to fly over many more jumps, across some of the most challenging cross-country events in the country.
Race name: Sea Elephant
New name: Sea Lion II
Barn name: Phante
Sire: Sea Salute
Dam: Ivory Today, by Caveat
Foal: Jan. 17, 1998
Winnings: $63,360Later this month, the racehorse who was called “champion” by grooms who worked with him when he went by his Jockey Club moniker, Sea Elephant, and who now goes by the name of Sea Lion II, may earn another distinction.
He may well become the first New York-bred ex-racehorse Thoroughbred stallion to compete at the legendary four-star Rolex Three Day!
Marty Bauman of Classic Communication, media coordinator for Rolex Three Day, confirmed that in all likelihood, it appears that Sea Lion II is the first of his kind to tackle the fabled 1,200 acre Kentucky Horse Park in a competition that pits the nation’s top riders against one another in a bid for the summer Olympics.
Kemp’s stallion, who will be ridden by world-class equestrian and friend Pam Fisher, qualified for Rolex at the 2011 Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event. He has as long a list of wins over fences and obstacles, as there are stories about his quirks and attributes.
The fact that a 16-hand horse, who is said to be “built like a Cadillac” and as “agile as a cat,” remains a stallion is a testament to his unique personality.
“When I first shipped him to Pam Fisher for training, I told her that if she had any qualms about him remaining a stallion that she should tell me,” Kemp says. “After a few months together, she called me and said, ‘He’s amazing!’ ”
Fisher was able to school him far beyond Kemp’s wildest hopes, and tacked the trickiest courses without turning a hair.
He works as easily with voice commands as he does leg signals, she says, noting that Fisher can lunge him by standing in the middle of the ring and calling out which gait she wants him to perform.
And when presented with a unique challenge, he finds his way of doing what is asked, even if he has to do it his way.
The best example of this is how he loads onto a trailer. He goes backwards, no matter how steep the incline. And yet, he walks right onto an airplane—go figure, Kemp says.
And when he’s jumping, he is an unerring professional.
From his early days, when he hopped over small jumps with such grace that it was clear he had a “big talent,” to his myriad championships, Sea Lion has proved that a New York bred ex-racehorse can compete among the best, Kemp says.
“It’s a big, big accomplishment to produce a horse who’s capable of this,” she says.
Last year, Sea Lion II placed third at Twin Rivers CIC Three Star; he was 7th at the CIC Three Star at Galway Downs; and he was 12th at Jersey Fresh CCI Three Star.
In 2010, he was the USEF Performance Horse Registry Reserve Champion advanced horse of the year.
And now for Rolex!
“Pam’s goal is to score high enough to get to the Olympics,” Kemp says. “If he gets a high enough score at Rolex, he could be long-listed for the 2012 games in London.”
Thinking of how her handsome, wiling stallion made it all seem easy, Kemp chuckles.
“We always knew he was a really good horse.”