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Bennett Crowned NHS National Champion at Penn National

It’s usually refreshing to go some place new and such was the case for the 59th Annual Pennsylvania National Horse Show held October 20-23, in the spacious State Farm Show Arena. Like some of the other shows where it takes a little bit of sacrifice on the part of the trainer/exhibitor there is also greater gain. Granted it’s because of the Hunters and Jumpers and the Grand Prix competition, but there are people in the stands. The majority of the packed Saturday night house stayed for a good part of the Saddle Horse show that followed. There were also nice audiences on the other evenings and afternoons, especially compared to other Saddle Horse shows around the country outside of Lexington and Louisville.

The Pennsylvania National was voted the UPHA Chapter 15 Horse Show of the Year as it added the prestigious NHS Good Hands Finals to its schedule last year to go with the newly renovated State Farm complex. Everything is under one roof so weather plays no factor whatsoever. The show ring has a big time sporting event feel to it and on Friday and Saturday nights champions were crowned with spotlight victory passes. Making the trip worthwhile, prize money is also good, relatively speaking. Numerous vendors with many different wares were also a part of the complete picture which makes this a show worthy of more support from the Saddle Horse/Hackney community.

“I started going because of Bob Lilley’s horses but I keep coming back because I love it,” said Sunrise Stables trainer Melissa Moore. “It’s a beautiful and easy drive to get here and we have such a fun time actually showing in front of people. The spotlight victory passes are very cool since shows don’t have them anymore. It’s a great feeling riding in the spotlight with a crowd applauding. It’s just a blast!”

Sacrifices do include a cramped warm up area, a short window of time for which to work horses, and parking which is not the closest. Again, nothing earth shattering or too hard to overcome for the benefits received.

Peter Doubleday manages the highly regarded show which once enjoyed the likes of the biggest names in the country including Dodge Stables and the legendary Wing Commander. In addition to the hunter/jumper and Saddle Horse competition, today’s Penn National also hosts Draft Horse and Western Pleasure competition as well as specialty acts with this year’s being cowboy Tommy Turvey and Jack Russell Terrier races.

Doubleday’s officials included Pat McConnell who judged the Saddlebred/Hackney/Roadster competition and Ellen Beard-Arnold who made the decisions in the NHS Good Hands Finals. Ringmasters included Alan Keeley and Kent Moeller, while Shane Shiflet captured the winning moments on film. In addition to being the manager, Doubleday also served as announcer.

“This is a nice show that needs more support,” said trainer Gary Guz. “It’s not often you get to show in front of crowds like this and the new facility really makes it nice.”

The highlight of the show was the NHS Good Hands National Finals. Nineteen riders made the trip to Pennsylvania to try and join some in the industry’s greatest riders who have won the Final over the years. Riders from all parts of the country came with impressive records but those records were of little use when it came down to Thursday’s preliminary round. All that mattered now was what was delivered on this day.

Judge Beard-Arnold selected 12 of the 19 to return on Saturday afternoon for another round of rail work followed by individual workouts. Of those 12, four were current world’s champions in their age groups. Four others were current reserve world’s champions. The spacious, open ring was perfect for testing the national championship riders and when the last pattern had been completed, the young riders nervously awaited the results.

It was a certainly an accomplishment to make the cut and then even more so to land among the Top 10. Results were announced in reverse order and the final two riders left in the ring were Tate Bennett and Alexandra Flynn. Lillian Shively and Todd Miles made their way to center ring as Flynn was called out as the reserve national champion, leaving a tearful Tate Bennett standing alone as the national champion.

Following the pinning of the reserve champion, Renee Biggins and Tricia Pratt found their way to the winner’s circle to join the 2004 NHS Good Hands National Champion Tate Bennett. Born a horsewoman, Bennett is the daughter of Hoppy and Jane Bennett.

“That ride was for her grandmother who passed away last week,” said Hoppy Bennett as he greeted his daughter at the outgate.

Both Bennett and Flynn came back on Saturday night and made a presentation before a large and appreciative audience. It was a thing of beauty to watch these two riders in a darkened house with the spotlight illuminating their national championship form.

While not as deep as the Good Hands Finals, those that did show in the performance section enjoyed solid competition for the most part. It ended with the seven-horse Amateur Five-Gaited Championship on Saturday night. Competing for $1,250 in total prize money the varied riders pushed hard to make a Penn National victory pass. In the end Diana Kressley-Billig was overwhelmed with joy as she made that last pass with Espresso Love under the direction of Skip Shenker. Kressley-Billig and brother/celebrity Carson Kressley, who owned the grand champion, have grown up at the Penn National and enjoying two wins in the amateur division just added to the memories.

Tiny but mighty, Megan Ryan was the reserve grand champion riding CH Rastafarian under the direction of Gary Guz. They had been reserve in the junior exhibitor class to CH Diamond Flight and Kaitlyn Grom who were now directed by Revelation Farm trainer Michael Richardson.

Amateurs were the featured exhibitors on Saturday evening and making the spotlight pass in the Amateur Fine Harness Championship for the second consecutive year was I’m An Early Riser with Joan Adler at the whip. This gave Sunrise Stables a sweep of the harness division. Amateur Fine Harness Reserve Grand Champion Spools Top Sea RHF was no slouch himself making a top show with Donna Frush driving under the direction of Ronnie Graham and John Champagne. These two horses were also in the same order for the amateur qualifier.

Eight entries competed for the Adult Show Pleasure Championship but none were up to the task of knocking off world’s champion My Grande. It was the cocky bay star’s second victory pass of the week for Kristen Pettry and Royal Scot Stables. Coming closest to the champion was My Special Sultan, an entry ridden by Gloria Heath from DeLovely Farm.

DeLovely was the lone participant in the Roadster To Bike Championship and open class but look out, Roadster Raymond has another good one! Showing for the first time for owner Deborah Butler, Shively and Fed Ex delivered the goods.

“This horse was still racing back in May,” said a grinning Shively. “Renee Lavery called me and said she saw a horse at the track that might make a road horse. By golly, I think she was right.”

For some reason speedsters were just not here this week. Billie Rae Wilkes and Desert Fox had the ring to themselves in the Road Pony Championship and qualifier, but it would have taken a darn good one to beat them.

The six-horse Amateur Three-Gaited Championship, was a battle of the white-legged geldings. In the end Margo Harwood and CH SJ Like A Champ delivered the tricolor performance. With ears up and a precise four-cornered trot they also represented Seven Oaks Farm as the champions of the amateur qualifier. John Champagne has had this team tuned just right for many championships.

In his final show ring appearance the gritty performer CH Mr. Snuffleupagus was the reserve grand champion with Doreen Weston in the irons for this bittersweet ride. Unpredictable, yet always entertaining in his early years, Snuffy matured into a veteran campaigner holding many records for amateur championships in the Northeast. He will now enjoy the good life being retired along side world’s champion CH Blue Chipper at Smoke Hollow Farm. A red ribbon also went to Betty Reeves and A Design To Remember OCF. Theirs was in the amateur qualifier.

“He was one of a kind,” explained Doreen Weston while looking back on Mr. Snuffleupagus’ career. “He had a super personality and we just happened to get him at the right time. The first time I ever showed at Louisville was with Snuffy and we won a world’s championship. One of the funniest things about him is that finally one by one the announcers learned how to pronounce his name. We heard a little bit of everything in the beginning.”

You didn’t know what to expect next in the Amateur Three-Gaited Park Stake as one mistake after another was made by the majority. Surviving with a clean and confident performance, Trevor Williams and Mountainview’s Stock Option were sporty coming down victory lane. They were followed in the ribbons by Diana Kressley-Billig and Callaway’s Prime Rate. In the qualifier Prime Rate was on the money to take top honors for Kressley. Paula Percoco and Cagin Martini exited with the reserve streamers from this one.

Repeating as the 2004 Show Pleasure Driving Grand Champion, the ‘03 champion, Shamanic Dream, was driven by Donna Frush this year for Lisa Gumenick. Terri Dolan and the highly decorated world’s champion Harlem’s Strong Will had to settle for reserve on this day after taking the victory pass in the qualifier.

With a blue ribbon tune up for Kansas City, Hawkwing was quite impressive as the UPHA Three-Year-Old Three-Gaited Classic Champion. This expressive colt has been a star all year long for trainer Jan Lukens and owner Margaret Biggs. Nealia McCracken was aboard Callaway’s Dream Weaver for reserve.

There was plenty of room for more entries in the Hackney Pleasure Driving Pony Championship which was won by Tim Holahan and LLF Justin Time. Last year’s champion, Steal The Show, was reserve with Mary Cichowski. They also won this year’s qualifier.

A consistent supporter of the Penn National, Jan Lukens brought a good string which included Junior Exhibitor Show Pleasure Grand Champion CH Sergeant Royalty and his winning jockey Caitlyn Spring. In a repeat of the qualifier, they had stiff competition including that from twice reserve champions Cassi Wentz and CH Lover’s Heir. Both of these entries know what the winner’s circle looks like.

Versatile Jessica Moctezuma displayed her trademark smile and smooth horsemanship to win the Junior Exhibitor Country Pleasure Championship with Protector. She rode from her mom’s North Wind Stables to win both classes in their division. Joelle Bennett and Worthy’s Heirloom were worthy of reserve grand champion honors as well as the reserve finish in the first round.

The $1,500 Five-Gaited Championship was as good a three-horse class as you might ever see. Making it most interesting was the fact that all three were as different as they could be. Prevailing, however, was the beautiful and talented gelding from Royal Scot Stables, Mahvalous Asset. Kenny Smith had him wearing the bridle like it was made for him to win both the open and championship. Current Five-Gaited Mare World’s Champion Spider Red was right there for reserve honors both times out. Mike Spencer had the Minna Hankin Mintz entry revved up and ready to go for two nice performances. Also making their presence known was the team of (SA) Molligny Don’t Worry Be Happy. Melissa Moore was making the challenge for Liberty Saddlebreds.

Keeping the country pleasure division in the family, Erin McCracken captured the Adult Country Pleasure Championship with Some Kind Of Magic. This gave trainer Nealia McCracken both the junior exhibitor and adult championships. Barbara Matthews turned in a good reserve ride with CH Harlem’s Jamaican.

Supporting their home state horse show with a group of world class entries, the Lilley family’s Liberty Saddlebreds claimed the Fine Harness Championship and qualifier as Melissa Moore drove the leg waving Last Tango In Paris to the tricolor honors. Coming from the winner’s circle of the open class this is one entertaining harness horse. Leaving the ring as the reserve grand champions, Definitely Dianna and Loren Uretta made an eye-catching show for owner Kaye Bowles Durnell.

Kate Ryan and CH L.A. Wing Victory gave a flawless exhibition for the Five-Gaited Pleasure Championship. Champagne’s Irish Sea made yet another victory pass in the qualifier with Deborah Butler aboard. Ryan was victorious just two classes after stablemates Joan Sylvester and Mastercraft’s Gambler set sail to win the Amateur Road Pony Championship ahead of Janet Sterba and Wait & See’s Bright Flame. Both of these ponies have enjoyed other victory passes this year and both tied the same way in the qualifier.

Melissa Moore’s Sunrise Stables took two of the three open stakes adding the Three-Gaited Championship to the harness title. Moore and SJ Denmark’s Geronimo represented John Bulmer as the open and grand champion. With a world of expression, Geronimo was crowned champion ahead of a sporty youngster named In the Game. Winner of the junior/novice class, Gary Guz was the reserve grand champion rider for Carolyn Banks.

Just two classes earlier Moore had made the victory pass in the Three-Gaited Park Stake with (SA) Trujo A Wish Come True, an entry owned by Liberty Saddlebreds. Margaret Biggs and world’s champion Desert’s Supreme Lady came away with the reserve grand championship. Todd Leffler and Fox Creek’s Cut To The Chase had been reserve in the qualifier.

Six young riders competed for Friday evening’s Junior Exhibitor Three-Gaited Championship. The best of the contenders turned out to be CH Santana’s Cheer Me On, a veteran champion shown by Rebecca Materniak while representing the Gary Guz Stables. Also making a good bid was reserve grand champion The Talk Of Savannah with owner/rider Alexandria Simpson. In the qualifier it was The Talk Of Savannah and Simpson exiting with the blue prize ahead of Jessica Moctezuma and the newly trimmed The King’s Talent.

Coming from the winner’s circle of the Country Pleasure Driving Championship at Octoberfest just the week before, Jayne Romano and Champagne’s Mizz T-Phi did it again at Penn National to close out a most successful season. Genius Poetic Justice and Diane Greenberg provided the reserve grand champion competition following their winning performance in the qualifier.

Purchased from Nicholas Villa back in the summer, Montgomery Burns was ridden to victory in the UPHA Three-Year-Old Five-Gaited Classic by Doreen Weston. It was a blue ribbon performance, unfortunately they were the only ones.

Four entries did compete for the prize money in the UPHA Fine Harness Classic in which the top check went to John Champagne and Kiri. They represented owner Margo Harwood as the champions. Reserve money belonged to Kerry Holahan and Heir Dream.

Pat Johnson and CH A Magic Surprise haul in tricolor after tricolor in the Western Country Pleasure division and Penn National was no different. The North Wind Stables combination took both classes with A Lot Of Time and Tiana Tapper representing Wentz Stables as the reserve grand champions among the eight entries.

Several blues adorned the Sunrise Stables tack room curtains. Adding to the cause was Black Diamond’s Rifle Man, winner of the Junior/Novice Five-Gaited class for owner/rider Melissa Moore. Gary Guz finished reserve aboard So What About Last Night.

From Wentz Stables, Carolyn Constantine and The Mahogany Bay opened the Saddle Horse competition for the week by turning back all challengers for the Three-Gaited Show Pleasure blue. Gail Wirtz-Costello and My Dakota were worthy of the red streamers in this opening event.

These were the highlights from the 59th Annual Pennsylvania National Horse Show. It truly is an equine showcase that should be considered by other barns for 2005.

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