Former Navy Pilot Turned Trainer, Kyle Horlacher Flying High in his New Profession

Going to the track as a child with his grandfather, Maryland-based trainer Nate Heyman, he always wanted to work in racing.
Published
23rd Jun 2024
Reading time
5 mins
Just 47 when he retired from the Navy, Horlacher had to figure out what the next steps would be. A common path for Navy and Air Force pilots is to go to work for the airlines when they retire. But that wasn't for Horlacher. He set out to fulfill a lifelong ambition, to breed, own and train horses.

By: Bill Finley 

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Kyle Horlacher would prefer to steer the conversation to the horse he bred, trains and co-owns, the Pennsylvania-bred Shoshanah (Weigelia). She was aiming to give Horlacher his first stakes win in Monday’s Power By Far Stakes at Parx. A five-time winner bred in Pennsylvania, she’s a good story. But not nearly as good a story as her trainer.

Horlacher is a relative newcomer to training, which is not necessarily by choice. Going to the track as a child with his grandfather, Maryland-based trainer Nate Heyman, he always wanted to work in racing. But for 22 years he had something a little more important to do.

From 1998 to 2020, Commander Horlacher served in the Navy as a fighter pilot. By the time he retired in 2020, he had accumulated over 2,700 hours in naval aircraft and had been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (three awards), Navy Achievement Medal (two awards), and multiple campaign and unit awards.

“It was a lot of fun being in the Navy,” Horlacher said. “You spend a lot of time away from home and when you’re gone the people in the Navy become your family. There’s a lot of camaraderie out there, from the guys who fix the airplanes to the ones that fly them. That’s what I missed the most about the Navy, the friends I made there.”

Just 47 when he retired from the Navy, Horlacher had to figure out what the next steps would be. A common path for Navy and Air Force pilots is to go to work for the airlines when they retire. But that wasn’t for Horlacher. He set out to fulfill a lifelong ambition, to breed, own and train horses.

“I owned some horses while I was in the Navy,” Horlacher said. “Obviously, with my commitment to the Navy I couldn’t train them myself. I always wanted to take a crack at it. The airlines are always a great option and my buddies are doing well working for them. My son is on that track now, to be an airline pilot. I felt like I wanted to do something different. It was always a lifelong dream to go into training eventually. Sometimes you just have to take that step off the cliff and jump and go it.”

Horlacher sent out his first horse in 2021 and has a career record of 6-for-24. He has just two horses, Shoshanah and an unraced 3-year-old filly named Dirty Gold (Flameaway), but that’s fine with him. He’s not interested in having a public stable and instead has decided to only train the handful of horses that he also bred.

His grandfather served as a role model. Heyman was a World War II vet who is buried in Arlington Cemetery and also took an unusual route into the sport, giving up a career in the dress manufacturing business to go into training later on in life. Heyman won 45 races on his own and also served as an assistant to Hall of Famer King Leatherbury.

“My cousin and I would go to the track with him,” said Horlacher, who has stalls at the Fair Hill training center. “It was a great way to grow up, going to Bowie, Pimlico and Laurel. When I was young, my cousin and I both wanted to be jockeys. We realized pretty early on that we were going to be way too big. Deciding to be a trainer, that came later. I realized that I can’t be a rider and wanted to be more involved than just be an owner. That’s how I decided I wanted to be a trainer.”

That decision became easier after he attended the 2009 GI Haskell, won by Rachel Alexandra (Medaglia d’Oro), as a fan.

“I was stationed at Willow Grove (Pennsylvania) at the time and Rachel Alexandra ran in the Haskell in 2009,” he said. “I wanted to take my kids to see a great race horse in person.”

When he retired, his friends in the Navy family weren’t surprised when he told them about his unusual career decision. He had been talking about it almost from the day when he enlisted.

“Since I owned horses while in the Navy I don’t think too many people were surprised when I chose to go this route rather than going to work for the airlines,” Horlacher said. “Whenever you leave a squadron they give you a placard and it has a picture of an airplane on it. Everyone in the squadron signs it. I’m looking at it right now and half of the notes on my pictures have to do with horses and racing. It’s fun to go back and look at that. Even 20 years ago, I was talking to my friends about my someday doing this.”

He won his first race in 2021 with the mare Bohemia Babe (Weigelia) and has won at least one race with his small stable every year since. Shoshanah has been his best horse. She has earned $174,153 and is coming off a second-place finish against open company in the May 17 The Very One S. at Pimlico.  She finished behind Future is Now (Great Notion), who went on to capture the GII Intercontinental S. at Saratoga on June 6 in her next start.

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