Exaggerator pony went from rags to riches

Charles, right, ponies Exaggerator to the winner's circle after the 2016 Preakness. Photo by Caris Photography and courtesy Kimberly Godwin Clark

Charles, right, ponies Exaggerator to the winner’s circle after the 2016 Preakness. Photo by Caris Photography and courtesy Kimberly Godwin Clark

The stately gray OTTB who pranced last month alongside 2016 Preakness winner Exaggerator, looking every inch the well-turned-out pony and the spitting image of his champion Dad Holy Bull, was once a ragamuffin living in a wintry Maryland field just waiting for his luck to change.

Charolais led a humble life after his race career ended with a sixth-place finish at Laurel Park in 2004, recalls Kimberly Godwin Clark of Leighton Farm in Maryland.

Somewhat rough around the edges with a patchy coat, Charolais looked to Clark like an animal in need of immediate TLC when their paths crossed sometime in the winter of 2009. She bought him on the spot over a decade ago much to the amazement of her husband who asked, “What are you doing buying horses like that?”

Barn name: Charles
Sire: Holy Bull
Dam: Mismatch, by Polish Navy
Foal: May 13, 1999
But over the course of eight months, the once unimpressive looking gelding proved to be made of much finer stuff than his initial appearance would suggest, she says.

“He always walked like nothing could beat him down,” Clark says. “And when I got him to my barn, and he got all the food he could eat, warm blankets and care, it was like he seemed to say, ‘Were in fat city now, let’s enjoy it!’ ”

The attitude, and an indefinable “it” quality was what attracted Pimlico outrider Lisa McKlveen; a woman who holds the distinction of being the first female outrider during afternoon races at the track, and the first female outrider to pony a Preakness winner.

The first time McKlveen spotted the gray, she approached Clark, pointed at the Charolais, and declared, “That’s my next pony!”

Charles, a month after he arrived at Clark's farm, always carried himself with pride no matter how he looked.

Charles, a month after he arrived at Clark’s farm, always carried himself with pride no matter how he looked.

“I remember the first time I saw him. I was sitting watching the track and I see Kim had this gray with really long hair and I could see his ribs. He just caught my eye as they walked around the track. After I told her he was my next track pony, I kept an eye on him. I think she thought she’d bring him back to be a racehorse, but then one day she asked if I still wanted her gray horse, and my heart dropped,” McKlveen says. “I told her yeah, yeah, I want him. I said I’d be over in 10 minutes, and that’s how I got Charles.”

But their success on Pimlico didn’t happen over night.

At first Charles was leery of his new owner. He didn’t trust her. He didn’t want her in his stall. And he wouldn’t do anything she asked. “One day he even pushed me against the wall, trying to squish me,” she recalls. But she believed in her new horse, and never gave in to his shenanigans.

Charles and Lisa catch a runaway racehorse at Pimlico.

Charles and Lisa catch a runaway racehorse at Pimlico.

Then one day while out on an impromptu foxhunt, the trust he’d been withholding was offered up.

“We were about halfway through our ride and taking a break with the other horses when he did a complete 180. He turned and looked at me in the saddle and that was the moment he said, ‘OK lady, maybe you’re not so bad. From that day forward, the love just grew.”

Throughout the years ponying together at Pimlico, Charles has surefootedly carried her after riderless, runaway racehorses. And together they have built their track record to the point of being selected to pony the Preakness winner this year.

“Last year was the first time I’d ponied the Preakness winner. I took a different horse, and ponied Triple Crown winner Pharoah. This year was Charles’s first time. He’s now my most senior outriding pony and when the time came, he did everything with his usual perfectness,” she says. “He does goof off from time to time. But when he has a horse with him, he’s amazing. These pony horses give their life for you. As a rider, you try to keep them out of trouble, and they trust you for it. And you trust them to get you out of something bad when it happens.

“There’ve been many times I should have wound up on the ground, but he saved me.”

Walking alongside Exaggerator after the Preakness, Charles pricked his ears, tucked his head, and looked like a schoolmaster.

“His story of where he is now, and where he was, is incredible,” McKlveen says. “Some gait people remember him as a racehorse, and he was not a nice horse. But Today, he’s a very regal horse, and that’s why his name is Charles, never Charlie.”

She was so thrilled with the way he handled his Preakness duties that McKlveen emailed Clark the photo of the little ragamuffin, resplendent now, back among his kind.

Says Clark, “It’s an amazing story for him to go from where he was to ponying Exaggerator. Charles has such a cool look on his face in that photo. He ponied him to the post and picked him up after. No matter what this horse does, to this day, he enjoys every day. There’s probably a lesson in that for all of us.”

14 responses to “Exaggerator pony went from rags to riches”

  1. Lynda

    I worked for Jimmy Croll when Al Hattab ruled the shed..he was Holy Bull’s sire..the. horse in the story gets his attitude from him grandsire..the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

  2. Elsa Gaebl

    What a wonderful story,pony horses work hard and it is a team effort,it goes to show what all of us know thoroughbreds are the best! They will give you everything they have,including their huge hearts! I love this story.

  3. Elizabeth

    I love this story. Just goes to show what people say time after time, win the trust of a thoroughbred and they’ll give you their heart. Long may this team keep doing what they do best.

  4. Mary McLeod

    Lori, what a great idea!!!! Charles, you are very handsome and distinguished. Lisa, the two of you are quite a team!!!! Before reading the story, I remembered very well the striking pony with both American Pharoah and Exaggerator…..BRAVO! xoxo to ALL, Mary in Boone

  5. Lori Carey

    I think (maybe there already is) an award should be included at the Eclipse award program, for a special pony/outrider. God knows how many lives (human & horse) they save on the track! Proof yet again, there is no breed, that has a bigger heart than a Thoroughbred!

  6. Cheri

    Wow, really GREAT story. Larry is very professional, too! Did he teach Charles the ropes??

  7. Carolyn kara

    What a great story he looks like his dad..wish all stories had a happy ending about racehorses

  8. Debbie Cubbage Nakayama

    I just met Charlie at Pimlico racetrack this past weekend! He’s such a friendly horse and his outrider let me give him a few peppermints too!

  9. Suzanne Birks

    Love these stories…I just fill l up!

  10. Jack Klein


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