Chrome’s pony is hot stuff, won $4 million racing

Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome is led to the Kentucky Derby starting gate by Perfect Drift, a 3rd place finisher in the Derby, who now works in his second career as a pony at Churchill Downs. Photo courtesy Wendy Wooley/Equi Sport Photos

Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome is led to the Kentucky Derby starting gate by Perfect Drift, a 3rd place finisher in the Derby, who now works in his second career as a pony at Churchill Downs. Photo courtesy Wendy Wooley/Equi Sport Photos

The din of loudspeakers and jubilant Kentucky Derby crowds failed to jangle the nerves of the classy bay Thoroughbred who once ran the Derby himself, placing 3rd in 2002, and who this year led Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome to the starting gate.

With the steely confidence of an alpha male who’d been there before, now dressed in purple flowers in his neatly braided mane, Perfect Drift moved alongside the flashy red racehorse who won the Derby (and later the Preakness) and stands at history’s door.

In a career that earned more than $4.7 million, Perfect Drift’s career highlights include 3rd place finishes at the Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and a win at the 2003 Kentucky Cup Classic.

Perfect Drift
Sire: Dynaformer
Dam: Nice Gal
Foal date: April 29, 1999
Earnings: $4,714,213
Highlights: 3rd Kentucky Derby, 2002; 3rd Breeders’ Cup Classic Powered by Dodge, 2005
Debuting May 3 in his second career as a Churchill downs pony May 3, his tough-guy attitude served him well as he confidently braved the crowds and the hoopla to lead Chrome to the same gate from which he once sprang.

For Perfect Drift’s friends and connections, it was nearly as memorable watching him as it was watching history in the making.

Garrett Smith, manager of Stonecrest Farm of Kansas, which owns Perfect Drift, says he and the big bay’s owner Dr. William Reed were thrilled with their horse’s performance in his new job.

“He’s a smart horse. He’s a big horse, he’s about 16.3 hands, and he’s sound. He has the personality for this work because he’s an alpha male and won’t take (guff) from another horse,” Smith says affectionately of the horse he has known since 2004. “If another horse goes to bite him, he can just turn his ear” and make them stop.

Smith adds, “Dr. Reed and (his wife) Mary were thrilled for him in his new job, and happy he was doing so well.

Monnie Goetz, seasoned Churchill pony rider, says Perfect Drift was a perfect gentleman amid the crowds and noise. Photo courtesy Torrie Ann Needham

Monnie Goetz, seasoned Churchill pony rider, says Perfect Drift was a perfect gentleman amid the crowds and noise. Photo courtesy Torrie Ann Needham

Perfect Drift landed his new position with seasoned pony rider Monnie Goetz earlier this year. Goetz, an expert rider who credits her father Tom Hawkins, a leading Nebraska horseman for teaching her everything she knows, knew instantly that Perfect Drift was ideal for the high-pressure job.

“The Derby is quite a powerful race, with a lot of noise and action. And I thought if any horse deserves to do the job, it was Drift. He’s a pretty special horse, and I’ve known him his whole career. He was a great racehorse, very intelligent, and I knew he’d be great at anything.”

And he was great.

When Goetz leaned down from her position on Perfect Drift to take hold of California Chrome’s lead rope, she felt all confidence as she sat on her rock solid pony. And the pair walked on to answer the call of destiny.

Author’s note—I’m reposting this story today, June 7, 2014, Belmont Stakes Day. Good luck Chrome—bring it home!

40 responses to “Chrome’s pony is hot stuff, won $4 million racing”

  1. kelly patrick - harding

    just wanted to say,I knew Perfect Drift from a baby.I was the first on his back….altho no longer in the business, I loved working for the Reed family at Stonecrest the last 10 years of my life with TBs, very very gracious people and am so happy he is with Monnie…who appreciates his BIG when needed personality

  2. Delrene

    Lava Man also has his own Facebook Page. He is very, very popular! Love these stories about all the pony escorts. We need a book with photos. Something like Barbara Livingston’s Old Friends. Thank you for this great update on Perfect Drift.

    1. Rene'

      I would love to see a book about race horses that have become ponies. Great fundraiser for OTTB’s

  3. Rebecca

    So awesome!!! He is definitely hot stuff!!! and Love Ms. Monnie’s Chaps!!!

  4. Thursday Reader from Devoucoux | Eventing Nation - Three-Day Eventing News, Results, Videos, and Commentary

    […] Did you know that California Chrome’s Derby pony ran in the Derby himself?  That’s right, Chrome’s pony, Perfect Drift, ran in the 2002 Kentucky Derby and placed third. Not only that, but he went on to earn more than $4.7 million in his career, including a third place in the Breeders Cup Classic and a win in the Kentucky Cup Classic. Retired now to a new job, he knows exactly what to tell those young whippersnappers as he leads them to the gate. [Chrome's Pony Is Hot Stuff] […]

  5. Dianne

    Does anyone know what Perfect Drift was doing since 2006? I used to always bet on him when I saw him racing…. Thanks for the story….Its just too bad pleasure riders have forgotten how to deal with off the track racehorses. I had a gelding that raced a few times, clocked bullets in the AM but faded to the rear in the afternoons, but put in a wonderful career as a dressage and trail horse until I retired him at age 29!

    1. Susan Bindas

      Pleasure riders have not forgotten how to deal with OTTBs, they are currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity that I expect will continue to grow. I’ve had 2 awesome OTTBs that are great trail and hunter horses and most of my friends ride OTTBs. Advocates like Susan, who continue to get the word out about the success and versatility of OTTBs help them find soft landings after the track.

    2. Colmel

      Perfect Drift spent some time on his owner’s farm after his racing days were over. His owner and trainer retired Drift completely sound when he wasn’t competitive on the upper levels any longer. Drift wasn’t happy being a pasture ornament and he spent a couple of years as the “equine ambassador” at the Kentucky Derby Museum. It then became evident that Drift wasn’t through with the track and his ownership determined that he could be used as a pony horse at Churchill Downs.

  6. RiderWriter

    LOVE this story – how cool is that?? I remember the name Perfect Drift but really knew nothing of his career. It’s just wonderful that he wound up ponying, and was able to lead CC (maybe he gave him some pointers, LOL). Kudos to his connections!

  7. Jsmith

    Pattie, I was giving Caracortado Skittles (his favorite treat) at Santa Anita not long ago. He looks good.

  8. Kt

    Nice! I attempted to get my G1 to turn into a pony but he was all racing business lol good trail and farm pony though! It’s nice to see some of the OTTbs making new careers in the spotlight still.

  9. Margaret

    Lava Man never made it to Kentucky but he’s another one of those racehorses showing the youngsters how it’s done.

    I don’t know if it’s still up but Doug O Neill had the funniest video of Lava Man walking on his own through the barn. So from around a blind corner “here comes Lava Man! and he’s headed straight for the grain bin!”

    The video shows a groom approaching Lava Man who makes it well known that that is HIS grain bin and not to bother him! The groom quickly removes the wraps on LM’s legs.

    With enough down time, proper retraining almost anyone of those horses could make a great lead pony.

  10. Breanna

    Another ex-race gelding that was used as a pony was KY Derby winner Funny Cide. He never ponied at the Derby that I know of, but it was his second career before he moved to the KY Horse Park.

  11. Barbara Wood

    The story just gets better and better for all involved. Stories within the story.

  12. Linda R. Moss

    Another wonderful and timely story, Susan!!

  13. Sandy Carr

    Thank you….wonderful article!

  14. Jen Roytz

    I’m so glad you featured Perfect Drift!!! He was and is such a cool horse, and SUCH a fan favorite!

    As for the comment by “Not Telling,” that’s definitely an interesting story waiting to be told as well – one that I was not aware of. Doesn’t really fit with this story, as it was about one celebrity pony who took the Derby winner to post, not a more general, widespread piece about other ponies in other races. That being said…would make a cool feature of his own!!!

  15. Not telling!

    How about the pony that was used for general arod… How come no mention
    That he was saved from the kill pen In October and was used in the Preakness?


      Well, I would say that is a great story, too. And perhaps, Susan would do research and make another compelling piece based on it. Thanks for sharing. There are many wonderful pony second-career stories out there. Chrome happens to be in the forefront of everyone’s mind right now.

  16. SpotOn

    My boy raced for his people, then was “retired” to pony the TBs still racing for them. It’s funny. I can’t “see” him racing. But being a pony, I can see that.
    Now he is my pasture puff…. who is more than likely covered with mud at the moment, since I spent a bit grooming him this morning

  17. Cris

    Pattie, for what it’s worth, Caracortado (who must be very clever indeed) has a Twitter feed: At least it shows he is alive and well!

    1. Pattie

      Thanks, Cris !! I’ve added the link to my Favorites List. I keep Caracortado on my Equibase Virtual Stable so I see what he is up to.

  18. Susan Crane-Sundell

    Caracortado is still at Santa Anita-he was injured late last fall but he is expected to be back racing later this year. He’s a solid horse.So full of personality too.

    Perfect Drift did his job well. I agree, it would be really great to point more OTTBs to the job of ponying. They get “the drift” faster than other horses and it adds to the legacy of racing. The ponies have their own stories and this really adds to the history and pageantry that should be a part of horse racing.

    1. Pattie

      Thanks for the update on Caracortado. I have adored this horse since the beginning of his career. Even though I live in South Carolina, I try to keep track of him. I’ve always thought he was a good looking horse with a Heart of Gold 🙂

    2. carolyn darley mill

      I was a lowly exercise rider for the Whittingham second string barn in So Cal and also was the first licensed massage therapist to work on horses backside at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar back in the early ’90’s. I worked for three months on Dinard, Alan Paulsen’s Derby contender, who broke down at Chruchill Downs before the Derby. The years at the track made me a total TB lover and I am now transitioning a nice 6 year old (Twinkle in His Eye, Stanislavsky/Summer Siren) who is very smart and absolutely gorgeous. I found him on the Retired Racehorse Training Project website and paid not very much money for him, untried. I want to thank all the great people who are putting so much effort and energy in to re-homing OTTB’s – what a great thing – all those gorgeous smart athletic horses no longer going to waste or worse, going to horrific later years.

  19. Pattie

    I Love Stories like this !! So many Thoroughbred Geldings need another career after racing, to guarantee they don’t end up unwanted or neglected. I wonder where Caracortado has gone….he is a California Gelding who, I haven’t seen any works or races in quite a while.

  20. Michelle

    Neat story! Perfect Drift is a gorgeous horse! So glad he has a second career that he obviously excels at!

  21. buckinhard

    Mary, the trainer usually will ask the pony person to pony their horse(s). At the trainer’s home track, quite often the trainer will have a regular pony person.

    1. Mary

      Thank you for the reply.

  22. Carmel

    Wow! I never knew! I was so excited to see this story! So cool to see a past Derby contender (and 3rd place is something special in a race like the Derby) actually be a pony for the Derby. Could it have indeed been synchronicity that he led the Derby winner and from the gate that he himself had started from? Awesome! Thanks so much for the story Susan!

  23. julie mock

    Mary, each trainer/owner contracts with a pony person per race. The tracks don’t decide, they only license the people who own the ponies.

    1. Mary

      Thanks Julie for the response!


    Again, wonderful breaking story, Susan. Thankmyou. If only more ponys had second lives like Perfect Drift and Lava Man…dont even have to have been “stars” on the track….when one plays tennis with a better or as good a player, one’s game gets better. CC had a terrific horse for his pony escort and that pro experience surely helped CC on his rides to destiny.

  25. Mary

    Great article. How do tracks determine which pony is assigned to which horse in the race? I always wondered about this.

  26. Elizabeth

    Wouldn’t it be a wonderful idea to have Nothing But Off-the-Track TBs be the Pony Horses at all racetracks. There are Plenty that can do that job so very well and would help prevent some from not so good fates. That would help show the world that the TB Racing industry cares about their former TB racehorses!

    1. Pk Training

      Totally agree!

    2. Tom

      Honestly most of them are. The idea in fashion these days that people in racing just throw away perfectly good horses when they are finished racing is absurd. They have always found new homes or new jobs at the track for their horses


        Tom, your comment “….most of them are” is true enough.But the others who do not comprise the “most” REALLY do horrifically damaging things to the horses and so in turn, to the industry. Their abhorrent actions affect the sport. There is no denying there are many bad apples as well as good ones. But it only takes one bad one to spoil the barrel. We need to clean barrels.

  27. Colmel

    I THOUGHT so!!!! I’ve been a huge fan of Perfect Drift ever since he started racing. Having bred to Dynaformer, all his horses (especially Perfect Drift and Barbaro) have been favorites. I visited Drift at the Kentucky Derby Museum while he was their “representative.” When I was watching the post parade, I thought Chrome’s pony looked like Drift, but I thought I was wrong. Isn’t it funny how some horses just stick with you and you recognize them instantly like they were your own? This is one incredibly classy, beautiful fella.

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