Harley the Magnificent! He is an American Sugarbush Harlequin Draft horse officially named “Daisy’s Chief Dane” but now is known as Harley when he escorts Thoroughbred horses to the racetrack. He is noticed whenever he is on the track at Churchill Downs or Keeneland. He is the number one stop on the Kentucky Derby Museum tour of the backside at Churchill Downs. If he is standing near the grandstand, you hear people shout out “Hello, Harley the Magnificent!” and then their hands stretch out to reach him. And now? Harley “the Famous Racehorse Pony” is a Breyer horse model and one of the stars of the 2018 BreyerFest!
Breyer horses began in the 1950s with a saddled Western horse. Their horses quickly became collectibles and the company has a long history with the “real horse world,” especially with the superstars of the horse-racing world. Their models have included American Pharoah, Man o’ War, Zenyatta, and Secretariat among others. It seemed natural to create a festival celebrating the wide variety of Breyer models.
BreyerFest is a weekend festival where dreams come true for horse lovers of all ages. It’s at the Kentucky Horse Park outside of Lexington, Ky. For 29 years, it has been the pinnacle for anyone who collects Breyer horse models. It’s a chance to learn about the models, attend seminars, attend live horse performances, and meet the horses who inspired the models. This year’s theme is “Off to the Races,” and the 2018 Celebration Horse is Thoroughbred superstar Brass Hat, owned by William “Buff” Bradley. In addition, other Thoroughbred celebrities featured are Old Ironsides and Icabad Crane.
How did Harley become a Breyer model? Monnie (pronounced “Mawn-ie) Goetz is Harley’s owner. She tells the story with such glee and delight that her thoughts bounce around. “Two years ago, I was invited to BreyerFest by the Sugarbush folks and they registered Harley as a Sugarbush Draft. He was a big standout. Last year, they wanted me to come back but it was too hot. I had a lot on my plate as I own a layup farm and a pony business, so I didn’t come back last year.”
In October 2017, someone from Breyer called her to talk about making Harley a Breyer horse. “I was shocked. I really was. It was a big shock for me and a surprise. But I thought, I can’t take this away from my horse. This is quite an honor. I agreed and then we had to settle the terms.” She had a series of photographs sent to Breyer that featured Harley without his halter on. She is so proud. “He has been a huge hit. He has been selling out! Churchill Downs started selling [his model] in August. He has people coming to see him from the museum tour every day. They call him Harley the Magnificent and he loves it.”
Goetz has been calling him “Harley the Magnificent” ever since the America’s Best Racing story about him was published during the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in 2015 at Keeneland. He became a huge fan favorite. “After the story was published, I went to the grandstands [on Harley]. The folks in the grandstands screamed his name. You couldn’t miss it! You wouldn’t have believed it. I don’t know how many people screamed his name even from the bleachers and they also wanted to pet him.”
Harley is now 8 years old. She said that he quit growing in his seventh year and probably now weighs around 2,000 pounds. When she brings him to the track next spring, he will probably weigh 2,100 pounds. She was surprised when she recently reviewed his papers. She had maintained in the past that his dam (mother) was a Belgian but discovered that she is actually a Percheron/Friesian. He has matured a lot in the past few years. “He’s grown up. 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.”
Goetz slows down and thinks some more about the horse she loves. “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.”
There will be BreyerFest autograph sessions in the morning at the stables. Goetz and Harley will also be featured in live performances in the covered arena in the afternoon on Saturday and Sunday. Goetz is planning on wearing her traditional chaps and a nice shirt on one day and then plans to honor Churchill Downs. Harley will be sporting a Churchill Downs saddle towel and she will wear her Churchill Downs shirt. Her entry song will be “My Old Kentucky Home” followed by the “Call to the Post.” She plans on a simple display of walking, jogging, and loping and then perhaps stand a bit. She wants to “let some folks pet him on the sidelines.” Goetz and Harley will also be in the Sugar Bush demonstrations. At home on the farm, she likes to ride Harley without a bridle.
It’s a family affair for Goetz. Her 88-year-old dad is attending along with her two sisters and her brother. They are all very proud of Harley being a star at BreyerFest. Among all the excitement, she wants to acknowledge folks who have been part of the journey. “Harley wouldn’t be who Harley is if it wasn’t for him working at Churchill Downs and Keeneland. Harley wouldn’t be who he is if it wasn’t for Tracy [Meisenbach from American Sugarbush Harlequin Draft Association] calling me to register him as a Sugarbush Draft. Hopefully,Harley will bring attention to the breed.”
She caught me off guard when she thanked me for the 2015 article that brought attention to Harley and featured his foal photographs. “I want you to know. You are one of them who made Harley who he is today. The article that you wrote. It stuck out to people. It came out at the perfect time during the Breeders’ Cup when everybody was there. You helped him be where he is today. I thank you for that. You did help make Harley who he is today.”
I am not so sure about that. I do have a love affair with her horse and must admit sheepishly that his stall is often the first place I visit when I am on the backside at Churchill Downs. In preparing for this story, I reviewed the past three years of photographs I have taken in Kentucky and smiled as I discovered hundreds of Harley photographs. I honestly believe that one can’t have enough Harley photos.
Why? Because he is gorgeous. He is a knockout in a world where the stars are the Thoroughbreds. Often racing slim and leggy with carefully couture manes, they are quite the polar opposite of Harley. But he is the one who will get them to the starting gate. He will comfort and assure them on the track as they lean into him. He does it with style and flair and he doesn’t tolerate any shenanigans. When a feisty 2-year-old reared up on him, he simply stood near the flighty one with aplomb and ignored the tantrum. When he is on the track, he sometimes gives a photographer a little “side eye,” which means that he is aware of his surroundings. His trot is something special to see as he floats by lifting his lightly feathered hooves in perfect motion. The best compliment of all? It’s hearing his name as he passes. Whether it’s the folks on the backside or the fans in the grandstand, you will hear folks say, “Harley!” He is a very special horse. Take a look the next time you see him. It’s Harley the Magnificent and he knows it! And he is a Breyer model! What an honor! What a horse!