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Bold Lad...A Champion of Champions Obituary

by Bob Funkhouser

Every trainer and owner has had a favorite horse or pony, one that has touched their life in a way no other has. Some achieved that status by winning a certain title, or being the perfect mount for a certain situation. Others got there by coming along at the right time in a trainer’s/owner’s career, while still others become favorites because of what they gave or overcame.

Bold Lad became a favorite for all of the above.

The little pony with the white face, sharp ears, and huge heart was larger than life for many of those who were fortunate enough to be a part of his career. The son of Raintree Reveille and Fancy Ways was bred by J.B. Everline of Weeping Willow Stable, Zion, Ill., and was first named J.B.’s Napolean Alfonse. Little Napolean didn’t start out a star. He was just part of the farm for a few years before being sold to Walter Fudala and Michele LaVeau of Woodstock, Ill.

It was in 1990 at the Cornbelt Charity Horse Show in Bloomington, Ill., that Jeff McClean and Mary Gaylord first saw the then seven-year-old pony with Mike Dumas driving. It was about the time they had started dating and J.B.’s Napolean Alfonse was their first pony together.

He was delivered to Midwest where John Shea took over the training for McClean and Gaylord. They also changed his name to Bold Lad.

“He looked so bold and cocky” said McClean. “He would squat down and get all wild. We knew we wanted to call him Bold something and finally we saw a name that was something Lad, so we came up with Bold Lad.”

The first show was Lexington Junior League with a blue ribbon debut and then it was on to the Illinois State Fair before visiting Freedom Hall. Gaylord won the Amateur Harness Pony World’s Championship in their only appearance as she had Dixie Jubilee to show back in the Amateur Harness Pony Championship.

“I only had him a few months so I didn’t get to know him as well as most of my ponies,” said Gaylord. “He was little, powerful, and big-hearted though.”

It was at the 1990 World’s Championship Horse Show that Kim Crumpler purchased Bold Lad for Marge Fergusson and Royal Scot Stables. She had won at Louisville with a cob-tail several years before, but Bold Lad would be her return to the show ring in a big way.

Ms. Fergusson didn’t come out with Bold Lad until 1991 when he was then under the direction of Pat McConnell at Tom Galbreath’s Castle Hills Farm. They began a winning career with victory passes at many of the nation’s biggest venues. Their first two trips to Louisville came in 1992 with a reserve world’s championship. In ‘93 and ‘94 they claimed fourth place ribbons. The next year Ms. Fergusson and Bold Lad were Amateur Ladies Harness Pony Reserve World’s Champions behind Sallie Wheeler and Brass Lass. They finished third in the championship behind Brass Lass and Trimmed In Brass.

Bold Lad and Ms. Fergusson had it all together in 1996. Under the direction of McConnell, they made victory passes as the Amateur Ladies Harness Pony World’s Champion and Amateur Harness Pony World’s Grand Champion.

“We first saw him at the Illinois State Fair and then bought him at Louisville after Mary [Gaylord] won the amateur class with him,” said Ms. Fergusson. “He was a pretty attractive pony and very talented. That’s what attracted me to him. I would find out that he was a handful. He wasn’t the easiest to show because he never let down. He didn’t do anything bad, he just didn’t let down. He made himself seem big and always gave you his all.”

Bold Lad and Ms. Fergusson continued to win. Throughout their time together they won classes at Des Moines, Milwaukee, Midwest Charity, Rock Creek, Lexington, Louisville, Winterfest, Illinois State Fair, Oklahoma Centennial, Carousel, the Indy 500, and Wisconsin Futurity.

The next stop for Bold Lad would be Georgia with the Lester Harmon family. At the age of 17 and 18, Bold Lad was shown to top ribbons in the Kentucky County Fair class for two consecutive years. From there he would be reunited with Pat McConnell when Ann Fitzpatrick bought him to bring him home and retire under McConnell’s care.

Bold Lad wasn’t ready to retire, however, and he tried out a new division with Fitzpatrick. They challenged the pleasure driving division winning some classes and then taking a top ribbon at Louisville in 2002. He would make one more trip to Louisville, this time on a different mission.

During 2002, Donna Smith, wife of University of Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith, had been visiting McConnell Stables with her friend Heidi Bowie and started taking some driving lessons. It didn’t take long for her competitive juices to flow and she was infatuated with getting to the show ring.

Smith leased Bold Lad and after driving for less than a year with lesson horses, she placed reserve with Bold Lad at the Kentucky Spring Premier. Their next stop would be Rock Creek where they won their first blue together. They would continue throughout the season staying in the top ribbons. In Smith’s first time showing in Freedom Hall, Bold Lad took her to a fourth place finish behind three world title holders. A few weeks later they would beat the current world’s champion. With the experience of that 2003 season, Smith went on to buy a Saddlebred and continues to show.

Fitzpatrick and McConnell decided Bold Lad had done enough even though the big-hearted star still didn’t think he was ready for retirement. He was the king of the roost at Rigby’s Green and McConnell Stables.

Just this past month Bold Lad became another colic casualty. He was rushed to the clinic where vets determined there was nothing they could do to save him. It wasn’t the ending that McConnell or Fitzpatrick had envisioned when she brought him home to retire, but there was much satisfaction knowing that he had had a great life and had done so much for so many people.

“He was a strong little sucker, I can tell you that much,” said Fitzpatrick of her drives with the multi-titled world’s champion. “He was also a wonderful pet around the barn. He always had so much personality.

“It was amazing how he thought he was going to a horse show the night we put him on the trainer to go to the clinic,” said Fitzpatrick. As miserable as he felt, he still wanted to be a show pony because he thought that’s where he was going.”

Hardest hit by the death of Bold Lad was his long-time trainer Pat McConnell. To McConnell, there will never be another one like him.

“He would whinny when I would come in the barn,” said McConnell. “Bold Lad did more for me than any horse I’ve ever trained. I was very lucky to get to train him when I was young. The first time I ever worked him I thought he was great. He made you think you were a pretty good trainer.

“I never worked another one that made me feel good more times than that pony did. He was the gamest animal I’ve ever fooled with and yet he was a big pet to be around. I can’t say enough about what Ann Fitzpatrick did to buy him and bring him here to retire. I’ll always be grateful to her for that.”

Others in Bold Lad’s life were just as grateful that he spent his last years with McConnell. There was a strong bond between the two.

“I’m so glad Pat had him at the end,” said Ms. Fergusson. “He loved that pony and that pony loved Pat.”

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