Meet Harley the Magnificent

Harley the Magnificent

Harley the Magnificent is well known on the backside of Churchill Downs, where he serves as the voice of reason and a calming influence to the highly strung, high dollar racehorses he ponies on the track. As soon as I saw the video of him ponying King Guillermo in a video, I coveted him and it turns out I’m not the only one: Harley has a huge fan club! In fact, he was recently made into a Breyer model, an honor that many of the horses he ponies can only aspire to.

Harley was recently honored by Breyer who made a model of him.

Harley may have the coloring of an Appaloosa, but he is, in fact, a more exotic breed: Harley is a registered American Sugarbush Draft horse which is a new horse breed developed in the United States. Harley’s out of a Fresian-Percheron mare and a Leopard Appaloosa stallion. At 17.2″ hands and more than 2,000 pounds, he’s twice the size of the thoroughbreds he escorts onto the track, and probably three times as wide.

This gentle giant commands a lot of respect at the track.

“All the Thoroughbreds love him because he is like a great big security blanket. He is like a pro and it is obvious that he loves what he is doing.”

Monnie Goetz
Harley calms a 2 year old
Harley calms a 2-year old.

His mellow personality and physical size are comforting to fractious racehorses who may be overwhelmed by the crowds or the impending race. Harley is not intimidated by youngsters acting up, and his charges appreciate his calmness and his bulk. I’m sure more than a few have bounced off him as they approach the starting gate and it takes a special kind of horse to tolerate that behavior.

Harley is owned by Monnie Goetz, a horsewoman who grew up on the Nebraska racing circuit. Known for her string of reliable pony horses, including “Applesauce,” who has several times served as the mount for Donna Brothers during big races, but Harley has eclipsed his Appaloosa “brother” in size and popularity. Goetz bought Harley as a foal, when he was known as Daisy’s Chief Dane, but he soon became Harley. She started calling him Harley the Magnificent after the America’s Best Racing story about him was published during the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in 2015 at Keeneland. Now ten years old, Harley works at Churchill Downs and Keeneland., where he is in much demand.

He knows his job and he loves his job. He’s proud to be out there. He is a work horse. He loves to be out there working. He knows he is special. I work him hard. I ride him every race and often I don’t switch horses. He is considered a good work horse.

I knew when I saw him as a foal, I just knew. I called immediately that day to buy him. This had to be. I had to have this horse. There was not one moment otherwise. It was the best move I have ever made. I’ve had some outstanding horses in my life. But he is the top one now.

Monnie Goetz
Harley’s Breyer doppelgänger.

In 2016 ago, Goetz was asked by the Sugarbush Draft registry to attend BreyerFest, where Harley was registered as a Sugarbush draft. Based on his popularity at the festival and on the track, Breyer asked Goetz if they could make a model of Harley. His model now regularly sells out at Churhill Downs!

Harley and some of the other “pony” horses from the 2016 Derby. The term pony in this context doesn’t refer to size, but rather the act of leading one horse off another.

5 thoughts on “Meet Harley the Magnificent

  1. I’ve watched Harley the Magnificent over the years and have been impressed by him. He certainly seems to be a calming spirit. THere’s another “pony’ at…maybe Churchhill downs? I don’t know, but he’s a smaller (than Harley, he may be a QH) chestnut who leads his charge without a bridle. Sometimes his rider puts pompoms in his mane. He’s like Harley…calm, unflappable and doesn’t seem to care if the racer next to him wants to nibble (or bite, more likely, being colts) his neck.

  2. I’m super impressed by the lead ponies, especially the ones who used to race. They know all about going to the starting gate. I wonder if they are laughing inwardly about how easy their job is now, or wishing they could run.

  3. I think it’s the latter, Liz. My ex husband bought a (thoroughly unsuitable for him, a green rider, but he was smitten by the spots) ex lead ‘pony’, half TB and half Appy. Smoke could RUN, we think he’d been raced once or twice, and he always wanted to run. Away…..

    1. For sure, if I took Freedom to a track, he would want to run. One of the issues with some of the OTTBs that I’ve worked with is that when you get to a show/event and they hear the loudspeaker, their previous training kicks in. Not the best for a relaxed dressage test.

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