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All American Weanling Cup - With Bells On and Joan Lurie take the top prize

                          All American Cup Weanling Champion - With Bells On

by Susan Harris

Indianapolis, IN -- The All American Weanling Cup burst onto the Saddlebred scene last year with tremendous pomp and circumstance. This year’s edition was a worthy successor. Although streamlined somewhat in comparison to last year, the evening was full of special touches.


As the opening act for the All American Horse Classic, the Weanling Cup has become an eagerly-anticipated and closely-watched stop on the Saddlebred futurity circuit. While some of the nearly 50 entries had already shown in the national futurity at Louisville or their states’ futurities, this year’s $50,176 winner was an exquisite three-month-old doll baby of a filly who was at her first show. But let’s not get ahead of the story.


The All American Cup is the brainchild of Jim Aikman, American Saddlebred breeder/promoter extraordinaire. Now retired from breeding, Aikman saw the need for financial reward and incentive for those people who are the foundation of the breed - breeders. A stallion auction held in 2004 set the stage for this year’s competition. A total of 178 stallion services were donated by their owners, raising more than $340,000.00. Half of that total was paid out in this year’s All American  Cup prize money.


The evening opened with Misdee Wrigley driving a team of four matched bay Hackney horses to deliver the center ring dignitaries in a Holland & Holland Park Drag. The judges – John Champagne, Kim Cowart, and Billy Greenwell – were dressed in formal attire and delivered in transportation that also befitted the evening, a black, stretch limousine.


The nearly 50 weanlings were divided in four sections with each baby exiting the ring as soon as it was judged. The panel deliberated after each section to determine which entries would return. Although it was first announced that 18 would come back for additional judging, the panel indicated how difficult the task was by inviting 21 for the final round. To further show their appreciation for the abundance of quality, the judging panel selected 18 for recognition and prizes although only the top sixteen received prize money.


Possibly the smallest weanling in the ring, With Bells On (Con Heir x Stella Bella) unquestionably had the biggest presence in winning the top prize. Superbly prepared and presented by owner Joan Lurie, the dark bay filly looked like she was chiseled by any one of the splendid sculptors in today’s Saddlebred art world.

                                          With Bells On enters the ring a second time.

                         Waiting for results                   Can't get away from that cell phone!

                                                    The end of the show

This baby’s mere existence was something of a team effort. Stallion owners, Katy Theodorou  and George Davenport of Clover Hill Farm didn’t have the right mare for their stallion Con Heir but wanted him in the All American Cup competition. They asked Joan Lurie for her recommendation. After looking around, Lurie contacted Fran and Kim Crumpler, owners of Stella Bella, a royally bred General Steel daughter. In the end, Lurie herself ended up buying the resulting baby. Theodorou and Davenport couldn’t be more proud if they owned With Bells On themselves. Having bred and raised Con Heir, the pair feels that this win could raise their breeding program to another level. As for Lurie, after tying reserve and fourth last year, she was understandably pleased to win this year. 


                                             Reserve Champion CoCo Latte

With such a stellar group of weanlings, earning any ribbon at all was like winning almost anywhere else. Accordingly, the reserve champion, earning $35,840 was a singularly beautiful baby as well. CoCo Latte (Our Charm x CoCo GS), a handsome bright chestnut colt trimmed in white, was shown in an animated fashion by the veteran colt man, Joe T. Smith, with owner Johnny Jones serving as tail man. This colt’s dam is the prolific mare, CoCo G.S. who has also produced World’s Champions CoCo Loco and Coco Royale.

                                                  Virtual Obsession

Third place winner, Virtual Obsession, earned $22,937 for her ecstatic owner/breeder/handler, Wendy Weatherman Lewis. The dark chestnut filly is a daughter of The Sky King (x WGC CH Skywatch) and Leslie Lee. The second and third place breeders shared one thing in common, having bought their own stallions’ breeding fees.


Several special presentations were made during the breaks between weanling groups. A particularly poignant moment was a presentation made by the Hall-Fisk family of Hallston Manor LLC and Supreme Heir fame. Jim Aikman revealed that the family has offered to donate a breeding to the late Supreme Heir for the 2006 All American Cup auction. According to Aikman, this will be the only place where such a breeding will be available to the public. Paired with the announcement were performances by two Supreme Heir offspring. Jennifer Del Bosque rode CH The Edge,  and John Jones delighted the sparse but enthusiastic crowd driving Callaway’s Copyright, the current Fine Harness World’s Grand Champion.


Kristi Nichols, a talented singer and Saddlebred exhibitor, performed double duty by entertaining the crowd with her own special versions of several old standards such as It Had To Be You, The Way You Look Tonight, and many others. She had re-written the lyrics to correspond with the Saddlebred setting. They were imaginative and most enjoyable renditions.     


Eight stallions were beautifully presented during one of the breaks. Even the show ring retirees, Leatherwood’s Starlight and Simply Majestic, ridden by Barclay de Wet and Scott Matton respectively, looked ready to compete once again, as did Trust Fund who was ridden by his owner Romy Ackerberg. 

                  Leatherwood Starlight                                     Simply Majestic

                             Trust Fund                                                     Basquiat

Of the eight, there was a nice mix of horses presented under saddle, in harness (the wildly popular VHF The Licorice Drop Kid), and in-hand. Stallions presented in-hand were Basquiat, the impressive sire of this year’s 10th place weanling; Slama’s Storm, a striking gray son of Phi Slama Jama), Tipperheiry Hill, three-year-old heir apparent to his sire Supreme Heir, and whose dam is a half-sister to WGC CH Our Golden Duchess; and Mountainview’s Heir to Fortune, a four-year-old black Supreme Heir son owned by Leatherwood Farm and himself a former World’s Champion yearling.      


The Weanling Cup, however, is not all there is to the All American Cup. A Yearling Cup was added to the mix this year. A three-year-old class is scheduled for 2007.


In the Yearling Cup, foals eligible for last year’s competition were eligible to show this year, whether or not they showed as weanlings. Twelve yearlings showed Wednesday morning. Winning the top prize of $4,600 was Golden Harbor, shown by Smith Lilly for owner Sue Nifong. Only a yearling, but already a veteran of the show ring, this gorgeous son of The Irish Connection and Sink Oar Swim was a World’s Champion as a weanling and repeated that win in both the ASR Kentucky Futurity and Amateur Futurity at Louisville just a couple of weeks ago.


The interest in the All American Cup by stallion and mare owners bodes well for the future of American Saddlebred breeding and the show ring. After seeing so many outstanding youngsters, one can only muster inordinate patience to wait another year or two before they start showing up in the performance ring. In the meantime, look for announcements concerning the next All American Stallion auction when the matchmaking process starts all over again.


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