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A Classic Night In Kansas City

One of the most identifiable programs instituted by the United Professional Horsemen’s Association over the years, the UPHA Classic Grand Championships highlighted the best three-year-old Saddlebreds and four-year-old and under Hackneys in the nation. Our very own Dabora, Inc. (Saddle Horse Report/Horse World Magazine/World Champion Horse Equipment) was the new corporate sponsor of the now named Dabora/UPHA Classic Championships and what an evening it was for all involved.

By the night’s end 60 Saddlebreds and 15 Hackneys had competed for $134,300 in prize money. However, pony exhibitors left a lot of money on the table as their numbers were extremely light. This has been an ongoing problem for the American Royal and this year was especially disappointing as the 2004 pony attendance at shows like Lexington and Louisville was the highest it had been in some time.

In addition to healthy payouts in the classics championship competition, this was the first year that added money from the UPHA Classics Incentive Sale was paid to those eligible. Any yearling sold through the 2002 sale that showed and won a ribbon was eligible for the added money. When it was all said and done, two horses, Marching Orders and Mystic Pointe, split the $20,000 pot giving them another $10,000 each on top of their regular winnings.

Although it was renamed the Dabora/UPHA Classic Grand Championships, this year’s version could have easily been named the Conatser/UPHA Classic Grand Championships as Carriage Lane trainer John Conatser was on a roll which started in the very first championship offered on Thursday night.

Eleven of the best three-year-old harness horses in the land filled Kemper Arena, all of them with world and regional titles to their credit. From a family of world’s champions, world’s champion Coco Loco was the Dabora/UPHA Fine Harness Classic Grand Champion with John Conatser providing the winning drive for the Fritz Meili family. Sired by CH The King Of Highpoint out of Coco G.S., Coco Loco earned $6,720 for his winning performance. Reserve world’s champion Sugar Pine (CF First Night Out x Button Bright) made another stellar show for trainer/driver Carter Cox and owner/breeder Mary McLellan Williams to command reserve honors in the deep class.

Earning an additional $10,000 in incentive money from the UPHA Classics Incentive Sale, Mystic Pointe was the third place finisher with Bret Day on the lines for Keith and Sally Kurz. A world’s champion as a two-year-old, It’s Tea Time made another good show with Bob Phillips driving to fourth place honors for James Salerno. They were followed by Strawberry Pie, Platinum’s First Asset, Lady Bella, and Callaway’s Queen Of Crimson.

Although there were eight entered, only four road ponies battled for the highest honors in the Dabora/UPHA Road Pony Classic Grand Championship and they were four with lengthy show records. The best of the best on this night was again Heartland Victory Maker. Representing Northern Tradition Farm with trainer Bob Griffin, the 2004 Junior Road Pony World’s Grand Champion was the unanimous selection of the panel. This son of Dun-Haven Bandolier and Heartland Victorious earned $4,360 for winning owner Toni Nastali. A son of Dun-Haven Awesome Creation, world title holder Dasani trotted up for reserve honors with Jeff McClean at the whip for Golden Creek Farm. Also with winning records, Lone Star and Heartland Yankee Strutter accounted for the third and fourth place prizes.

It was deja vu for Jimmy Miller and Anna Marie Knipp in the UPHA Hackney Pleasure Driving Grand Championship. Showing a full brother to 2002 Classic Grand Champion One More Time (Seventh Heaven x Minute’s Classy Chassis), Knipp won the 2004 title with Craftmaster. Their unanimous winning performance netted $4,000. Reserve to the champion was the Queensbury Farm entry of Queensbury Debutante. She was driven by Kurt Antonacci under the direction of Rick Wallen Stables. Michelle Herron and Mastercraft’s Victory LF rounded out the ribbon winners.

The largest of the Classic Grand Championships was the 21 entry park pleasure division. They came from far and wide, all with a shot at the top spot. A $9,200 payout was on the line for first place money and in the end, Midge Hunt and the Revival son, Holy Grail, had received two of the three first place votes. This was another grand performance for the Dr. Kim Blackwell entry who has done it all year long.

Reserve grand champion honors belonged to The Grand Master, this year’s Three-Year-Old Park Pleasure Futurity World’s Champion shown by Bob Phillips for Lyric Laughlin. Continuing in the ribbons, Chuck Herbert and Cassini were again sharp for owner Karen Shelton-Rader to land the yellow prize. They were ahead of Music Of The Heir, Princess Ruby Begonia, Norah Jones, Tommy James and Callaway’s Torch Bearer.

Reigning Junior Hackney Pony World’s Grand Champion Heartland High Tech left no doubt he would also be the 2004 Dabora/UPHA Hackney Pony Classic Grand Champion. Darrel Kolkman piloted the stallion son of Dun-Haven Bandolier and Heartland Sweetheart for Heartland Hackney. Trainer Rich Campbell had the team prepared for yet another unanimous decision and a paycheck of $4,000. From the Kolkman’s breeding program, Heartland Summer Storm and Jerry Cummins were reserve for Betty and Warren Featherston. Jimmy Miller and Perfect Creation rounded out the competition.

The stage again returned to the Saddlebreds as 10 walk-trot horses took their places in quest of the heralded title and added monies. The hot hand belonged to John Conatser in this one as well. Conatser and owner Elizabeth Deknatel chose the Merchant Prince son, Marching Orders, before he brought down the house as the 2003 Two-Year-Old Three-Gaited World’s Champion with Tre’ Lee showing. They have been undefeated ever since including this year’s Three-Year-Old Three-Gaited National Futurity World’s Championship. This turned out to be another big pay check as Marching Orders won $6,680 as the unanimous Classic Grand Champion and another $10,000 in added money from the UPHA Classics Incentive Sale of which he was a consignment in 2002.

Among the high class walk-trot stars, Broadway’s Mamma Mia! was the unanimous reserve champion with Smith Lilly in the irons for Bill Beckley. Carter Cox and Amberwood’s Bobby McGee got a good piece of the money with third place honors for Tom and Anita Lewis. Shown by amateur owner Andi Perry for the first time, world’s champion Gypsy Say When was fourth in the good class and followed by Virtual Volcano, Hawking, Memories Merlot, and Like A Rocket.

Out of the saddle and into the viceroy, Conatser took another unanimous classics victory pass as he drove Heartland King Of Kings to the Dabora/UPHA Harness Pony Classic Grand Championship for Mary Sally Aylward. The Dun-Haven Bandolier son won $4,480 for his efforts. It was Conatser’s third unanimous Classic Grand Championship for three different owners. Certainly a night for the history books!

“I’ve been doing this for a long time and truthfully I have to say this is one of the most exciting nights of showing I’ve ever had,” said Conatser. “It’s a lot like a good round of golf, everything has to fall into place, everything has to go right. There are so many variables involved.

“We’ve gone to work with a purpose all year long and I don’t care how hard you work or how good you are, without the stock and the owners that trust you to go with the stock you pick out, you can’t be successful at this level. I am very fortunate to have both. Also, I couldn't have done any of this without Tammie [Conatser]. She’s the glue that holds this thing together. Without her inspiration I don’t know if I could or would work as hard to get to this point. I can’t say enough about what she does.”

One of the newest entries for Golden Creek Farms, Twin Willow’s Wild Thing made an athletic performance with Jeff McClean at the lines for reserve. Gib Marcucci presented Tanglewoods Awesome T to third place honors for Todd Gordon and Frank Boyd. The Sue Ellis entry of Pretty Impressive was just that to wrap up the ribbons in the UPHA Harness Pony Classic Grand Championship.

The last class of the evening was a barn burner. Eighteen gaited colts and fillies literally filled the ring and the battle was on for the title of 2004 Dabora/UPHA Three-Year-Old Five-Gaited Classic Grand Champion. The traffic was tough so it took a handy youngster to survive this test. And in this case it also took a master showman as Don Harris found his spots aboard Three-Year-Old Five-Gaited National Futurity World’s Champion Heirrison Ford to command first place votes from two of the three judges. The longer they went the better the steel gray son of Supreme Heir got for owner Sandra Corney and it topped off a great season for Harris. The winning pay check in this event was $8,520.

Showing for Salmen and London, Bret Day finished a strong night with the reserve grand championship aboard What’s The Whoopla. Debbie Foley is always in the thick of it and she exited with the yellow ribbon on Callaway’s My Blue Heaven. Indigo Joe, Sheba’s Charm, Our Silver Charm, Quidditch, and All About Charm picked up the remaining ribbons.

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