Meet Harley the Magnificent

Events / Travel

Harley as a foal. (Photos by Minnie Goetz unless otherwise noted)

He has been known to stop conversations in mid-sentence as people lose their train of thought and watch him when he nimbly passes by. He is not the kind of horse you expect to see on a world class racetrack. Your eyes think you are being deceived as you decide that you are looking at the largest track “pony” you have ever seen. He might catch your eye as he walks by. You can’t help but break into a huge smile and say “WHO IS THAT??” 

His name is Harley and he has a legion of fans who are unabashed about their supersize crush on him.  He is a very handsome horse and he sometimes looks twice the size of the Thoroughbred next to him.  When he gallops by the rail, you will hear his name repeated as he passes by the railbirds. Cameras are raised and his photo is posted throughout the internet. America’s Best Racing Senior Manager Penelope Miller shares a love for Harley. 

She said “Harley has built up a fan base from the unbeatable combination of his size, his distinctive coloring, his kind personality, and his sassy expressions. He’s the easiest horse to pick out of a crowd, but despite his massive height he’s also a sweet horse who’s approachable and gentle.” I swear that every time I see Harley, he manages to look right at me. He is one of those amazing horses who takes in all the details of his surroundings and keeps his situational awareness about him at all times.


Photo by Julie June Stewart

I recently found his owner Monnie Goetz at Keeneland and learned more about Harley. Goetz is a horsewoman who grew up on the Nebraska racing circuit. Her dad is the well-known horse trainer Tom Hawkins. She came to Kentucky in 1985 to gallop for Rusty Arnold, who ranks among one of the all-time leading trainers at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. Monnie also brought her pony business with her from Nebraska. She quickly picked up clients and her work expanded to include both Keeneland and Churchill Downs.


Photo by Julie June Stewart

She has ponied in 30 Kentucky Derbys and ponied some of the greatest horses of our time including Zenyatta during the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic. You have probably seen Goetz on television during the Kentucky Derby with her string of “ponies,” which is the track nickname for the full size horses who escort the Thoroughbreds to the starting gate for their races. Her current ponies include Perfect Drift, who placed third in the 2002 Kentucky Derby. He was a major stakes winner who earned a remarkable $4.7-million during his career. Together, they ponied California Chrome in the 2014 Kentucky Derby. Goetz also owns another well-known race horse; Liberty Bull who earned $500,000 in winnings which included the 2008 Sunland Derby. They ponied Orb to his 2013 Kentucky Derby victory.  

In 2010, she mentioned to a friend that she wanted a large appaloosa. They looked on the internet and she spied a day old baby Appaloosa and immediately bought him. (For Harley’s fans, his birthday is May 31, 2010). After all, she is a life-long horse woman and she knew exactly what she was looking for. The foal was a dark Appaloosa with large liquid eyes and a white blanket covered with dark spots. Officially named Daisy’s Chief Dane, she calls him Harley. Harley is a registered American Sugarbush Draft horse which is a new horse breed developed in the United States. 


His sire is a leopard Appaloosa known as EC Chief Foureagles who stands at 15.3 hands [a hand is four inches]. His dam [mother] is a 2,200 pound Percheron/Belgian mix known as Daisy360 who stands at 17.2 hands. I think it is safe to say that Harley gets his coloring from his sire and his size from his dam. Harley came to Goetz’s farm at six months old.  She says he was a “big, baby elephant!”  Right off, he was a lover who did everything she asked him to do. 


When she saddle broke him, he didn’t act up in any way. He didn’t fight her when she taught him to accept a bit and bridle. She used a ladder to mount him back then and still uses it. When pony rider Torrie Ann Needham rides him, she says it is “like sitting on a table.” Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day jumped on him one day last June and Harley took it all in stride. Day looked thrilled!

Harley’s first time at the track was at Keeneland when he was three years old. He is now five years old, 1,800 pounds, over 17 hands and Goetz says he will keep growing until he is seven. She only allows him to work five races a day. She says that 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.” He is highly requested as a pony. This year Harley was even featured at the Breyerfest at the Kentucky Horse Park during their Parade of Breeds.    

She said he doesn’t eat much grain (half a scoop in the morning and half a scoop in the evening) but I have been told that “he will pretty much eat anything he can fit into his mouth!” When it comes to his gaits, he has a slow gait and a fast gait. A normal horse might have to struggle when he is going at a fast trot but Thoroughbreds are comfortable galloping next to him. Harley’s first Kentucky Derby was in 2015 when he ponied trainer Nick Zito’s contender Frammento. 


Photo by Melissa Bauer-Herzog

His popularity continues to grow as more horse racing fans discover Harley. You can’t help but pick him out on the track whether you are in person, or watching on-line. Harley is simply magnificent. Goetz agrees and her voice softens as she says “Harley is one in a million. I love him dearly. I wish I had all Harleys. He did great in his first Derby and he has many more to come.”  

One thing that I predict is that as Harley’s fame increases, so will his fan base. He might give some of the Derby horses a run for the roses when it comes to popularity!  

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