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Since well before Lexington Junior League the question everyone had been asking was “Who can win the stake?” There wasn’t a dominant horse on the scene, yet there was a group of four or five that with their best show, could wear the roses. Little unfolded during this week to change that feeling before Saturday night so the anticipation was high among the spectators and those trainers and owners in contention.

The Kentucky County Fair Five-Gaited Championship kicked off the week of competition on Sunday evening with eight entries looking for the tricolor and roses. They won at Rock Creek in the rain, they captured the crowd at Lexington with their performance in the mare stake and now Mitch Clark and A Touch Too Much made a Louisville victory pass for Darryl Leifheit. For the second consecutive year Paul Cates and Heirogant were the reserve county fair champion.

Louisville fans are always in anticipation of seeing the next great one so the young horse classes are a big part of the Freedom Hall attraction as the best of this year’s crop hope to have it all together for the week. It’s tough to analyze the youngsters as year in and year out you see youngsters that never make the same type of performance again and then there are those that are down in the ribbons as two, three, and four-year-olds that go on to be some of our greatest long term show stars.

Twelve two-year-olds were featured in a prime time Thursday evening class and this was a good group from top to bottom. Giving every indication that he is one of those that we will hear from for a long time, I’m First (CF First Night Out x That Special Face) was the unanimous star as the Two-Year-Old Five-Gaited World’s Champion. Steve Wheeler rode the stallion for owner/breeder Stonecroft Farm. For the second consecutive year Belle Reve’s Renaissance Man sired the two-year-old reserve world’s champion. This year it was Belle Divine, a filly ridden by Larry Hodge for Paula Cline.

Also on Thursday night the Three-Year-Old Five-Gaited Stallion/Gelding class showcased 15 entries rackin’ and trottin’ up a storm. At Lexington Merrill Murray and Stuawako just kept charging from start to finish and they did it again at Louisville. While the judges cards were all over the place in this one, Stuawako was the champion for owner H. Curtis Meanor. Debbie Foley had the reserve champion in Callaway’s Lloyd Stark, an entry owned by Tim Shallcross. Todd Miles and Out Of Reach commanded third and the crowd showed their appreciation for fourth place finisher Callaway’s Guy Park, ridden by Todd Graham.

The three-year-old mares were 13 strong and when the cards were all sorted Kelly Freeman and Reedann’s Whispering Leaves received the world’s champion ribbon and lots of applause. The daughter of the former gaited star CH The Talk Of The Town was owned by Dr. Alan Raun’s Reedannland. Todd Miles had a fancy bay filly named Ya-Ya in reserve for Beth Clifton.

Those wondering if there are enough nice young horses out there only needed to view the 17 entry Three-Year-Old Five-Gaited National Futurity. Already tabbed as one of the next great ones, Pluto exited Freedom Hall with a reserve world’s championship and thunderous applause last year. He went on to win the Two-Year-Old Five-Gaited Sweepstakes and then this year only made one appearance to take everyone’s breath away at Rock Creek. It took a little while for him hit that explosive, wild lick that he does at both the trot and rack, but Pluto was the unanimous choice of the judges and the crowd to be crowned the world’s champion for Rob Tanner and owner Chris Nalley.

So collected, so expressive, and so athletic, Pluto held his status as one of the best. His performance was even more amazing considering the bad news that spread through the fairgrounds the next morning: Pluto had to be taken to the clinic with a bad case of colitis. Everyone’s prayers were with the Tanner/Nalley team.

Reserve champion honors, also with unanimous votes, went to a product of two world’s grand champions. Man Of Conquest (CH Man On The Town x CH Sultan’s Leather & Lace) lived up to his royal breeding with George Knight riding for Jean McLean Davis. Also showing great promise, Walterway’s Remember Me was third for Peter Cowart and owners Kenny and Ceil Wheeler. Last year’s two-year-old world’s champion The Evangelist was fourth with Virgil Helm riding for owner/breeder Roberta Rassieur. George Knight Stables had two of the top five as Dianna Rannells rode Galyda Believer to a fifth place finish for Hagan Saddlebreds.

Some of the greatest excitement came in the junior division which turned into a two-horse showdown for the championship. To set it up 16 entries battled for the junior stallion/gelding class and then 10 of those were asked to go a second round. The smile on Tammy Devore’s face said it all as Lexington’s junior grand champion Jewel’s Teton was called out as the world's champion. Establishing herself as one of the top young trainers coming up today, Devore made the winning ride for Lucinda Hartley. There were several nice horses in this group including a nice bay horse, reserve world’s champion Bring Out The Champagne, ridden by Mike Felty for Joan Attinger. Mitchell Clark was right in the thick of it riding Laurel Nelson’s Catamaran to the yellow streamers.

One of the great stories of last year and this season is “the little mare that could.” Have You Ever has taken control of show ring after show ring with performances that defy her size. She comes down the rail bigger and badder than the rest and that’s what she did in the junior mare class to receive the unanimous decision with Smith Lilly again giving a championship ride for Leatherwood Farm. The world’s champion three-year-old mare of 2001, A Woman’s Touch was reserve with George Knight up for owner/breeder Jean McLean Davis. Debbie Foley picked up the third place prize with Callaway’s Inspiration.

The Junior Five-Gaited World’s Grand Championship was one of those classes that Louisville spectators live for and every trainer dreams of being a part of. Eleven teams came back for the Friday night championship and when the work had been finished, announcer Peter Fenton asked Tammy Devore and Smith Lilly to return to the rail. This wasn’t the first Louisville for either trainer but they were far less seasoned than most of their peers that evening. Now the spotlight was on them.

Devore and Jewel’s Teton picked their spot on the rail, Lilly set Have You Ever up on the other side and away they went. The crowd was cheering both of them on as these young professionals gave it all they had. When they reversed the little mare just kept getting bigger while the ground covering gelding was starting to show the wear and tear of two classes and two workouts in one week. His ears never dropped and he kept driving, however, the mare stayed on the edge of explosiveness.

Waving his hat to the crowd Smith Lilly rode the Junior Five-Gaited World’s Grand Champion down victory lane for the famed Leatherwood Farm of Bluefield, Virginia. Tammy Devore and Jewel’s Teton were also given a great round of applause for their reserve world’s grand champion performance. The remaining ribbons were awarded to a group of horses that will undoubtedly continue and they included Breaking News, Catamaran, Heirobatic, Callaway’s Inspiration, Bring Out The Champagne, and Miss Liberty York.

"It's always great to have the crowd with you, that' something you dream about," said Smith Lilly."I could hear the crowd and knew they were there but it didn't change the way I rode my mare. She's a show horse, the noise makes her go harder, it's like she sprouts wings.

"We got her in as a coming two-year-old and she has been hard. She's very game. All she's ever wanted to do is go full speed ahead. It's taken a lot to get her settled and go at our speed instead of hers. She gives you everything no matter what you do with her. I love that she's never worn a chain or stretchers, it's all her."

"I was thrilled with second. I would have rather had the workout and finished second than won the class without a workout," added Tammy Devore. "The workout and the crowd made it something I will always remember."

Open classes were not the only ones filled with standouts. The juveniles, amateurs, and ladies also entertained Freedom Hall time and time again. Some have criticized that the classes at Louisville have been divided into so many different age groups and sections that it’s not as strong but the fact is there are more and more people showing nicer horses.

For instance there were 15 entries in the 13 & under qualifier which was won by the crowd pleasing grey gelding, CH Doubletrees Steel The Show. Having made many championship performances for former owners Candy Dowdy and Kate Salmonsen, he has been a juvenile star this year for Alexandra Flynn. Reserve to the DeLovely team went to another winning combination, Kelsey Price and Fox de Jour. New to the juvenile division this year, Callaway’s Rhapsody In Blue was a solid third place finisher with Andrew DeGrace aboard.

Back in the championship round CH Doubletree’s Steel The Show and Alexandra Flynn were even more impressive to receive the unanimous 13 & under world’s grand champion honors. It would be the first of two world’s grand championships the versatile DeLovely rider would win this week. Another equitation/performance rider, Kelsey Price showed polish way beyond her years riding Fox de Jour to the reserve world’s championship. Riders for Worthy’s Not Enough, Hero’s Jumpin Jack Flash, The Magic Hour, Social Worth, and Endolane Top Cat also left Freedom Hall with lifetime memories.

The competition got even deeper in the 14-17 division. Splitting the year winning Open Five-Gaited Grand Championships and juvenile titles, Chandler gave Lisa McClaren the thrill of a lifetime as he sifted through the green shavings with power to win the 11 entry 14-15 class under the direction of Julie Anne Wroble at Country Meadow Farm. Their unanimous decision topped Lexington’s juvenile reserve grand champion team of Tate Bennett and Anne My Anne. Also in the hunt Jessica Anderson and Winterthur hung the yellow ribbon on the Don Judd tack room.

A few classes later the 12 teams competed for the 16-17 year old title. Again the top eight ribbon winners have all been champions at the regional shows but here it was Certainly A Star taking the blue with Dakota Willimon riding for Bill and Sandra Murphy. Debbie Foley put this winning combination together. Leslie Cox and CH Callaway’s Capitol Reporter went home with the red streamers from this class, followed by Kelsey Smith and Vicuna Blazer.

Living up to its Saturday night billing, the Junior Exhibitor Five-Gaited 14-17 Championship was 15 entries strong resulting in a four-horse workout among the top two ribbon winners from the two qualifiers. The electricity from the stake night crowd had to be flowing through these young rider’s bodies as they set sail on the workout. The workout had just begun when 14-15 winner Chandler lost a shoe. It was replaced and the action resumed with the crowd loving every minute of it.

Hearts were pounding as Peter Doubleday announced Leslie Cox and CH Callaway’s Capitol Reporter as the new world’s grand champions. It was another blanket of roses for DeLovely Farm and proud parents Carter and Karen Cox. Showing for owner/trainer Redd Crabtree, Tate Bennett, also the daughter of trainers (Hoppy and Jane Bennett) collected the reserve grand champion title with Anne My Anne. Although Lisa McClaren and Chandler went home with the third place ribbon, McClaren will never forget the thunderous ovation she received on her way out of the ring. Making every pass count Dakota Willimon and Certainly A Star rode up for fourth place honors. Also taking home championship ribbons were Vicuna Blazer, Millennium, Reedann’s Steppin’ Out, and My Teddy Bheir.

Amateur competition started on Monday evening with 15 gentlemen riders aboard their high powered steeds. With blonde mane and tail flying behind a ground covering trot and rack Callaway's Weatherman was the popular champion with Gabe Deknatel riding under the direction of John Conatser. The High Hickory Farm entry was followed by Callaway's Where There's A Will and Bill Walsh. Also with several wins to their credit David Rudder and Great Day Rising were third.

Many were waiting to see the reigning two-times Five-Gaited World's Grand Champion CH Wild Eyed and Wicked with his new owner Sally Jackson and they didn't have to wait long as they smoked the ring on Tuesday night to win the amateur stallion/gelding class with a unanimous vote of the panel. The son of My Genius King performed all five gaits with ease leaving people wondering if they might jump divisions and come back for the big one.

The veteran Merchant Prince son, Cash Back, was right on the money with Kristen Pettry getting everything she could from Royal Scot's multi-titled gelding for reserve honors. Also making a strong run at the top honors, Hayden Bracknell and Kami Kazi returned to Cleveland Park Stables with a good yellow ribbon.

Amateur mares were a few classes later and what a beautiful performance Such Sweet Memories and Marion Hutcheson put on. Lexington's amateur grand champion was perfection in the eyes of the judging panel which gave her three first place votes. Dr. Owen Weaver and Himalaya took home the red ribbon after receiving three second place votes and they were followed by Peggy Gillenwater and the consistent winner Margaret Rose.

It was the last class Friday night and fans were wondering what would happen. The question was answered when the gates were opened and in came 15 of the best teams in the country including Sally Jackson and Wild Eyed and Wicked. Missing in the group was amateur mare winner Such Sweet Memories but it was reported later that she had a temperature that evening and could not make the class.

The gates closed and the battle was on. Wicked and Jackson worked their way through the crowd making each pass count. His head was high, ears up and legs churning. Making every attempt to knock off the favorites, Callaway's Weatherman and Gabe Deknatel were blowing down the straightaways like there was no tomorrow. They wouldn't lose due to a lack of effort. You also had to keep an eye on Kristen Pettry and Cash Back as they didn't miss a beat no matter what gate was called for.

Those three finished in that order with Wicked wearing roses for the third consecutive year, the first for owner Sally Jackson. Dena Lopez greeted the champions in the winner's circle and had to be proud of what she had put together. Deknatel and Weatherman were popular reserve grand champions as the crowd cheered wildly for their gutsy performance. Pettry and Cash Back also heard the cheers for their third place finish. Just moving from the juvenile division to the amateur ranks, Kate Ryan did a wonderful job of showing L.A. Wing Victory to a fourth place finish for owner Dr. Richard Hunderfund and trainer Gary Guz. Margaret Rose, Himalaya, Puttin' On The Ritz, and Spirited Revival finished out the ribbons.

"The pressure has been incredible all year long," said Sally Jackson. "So many people were wondering if we could do it. The week prior to Louisville I was about to make myself sick I was so nervous but after I went through the gate for the first time the butterflies disappeared. Dena [Lopez] had him ready to roll but you never know what will happen once you ride through that gate. The opportunity to show a horse like Wicked is just a joy. It was a wonderful week for me showing two horses three times and winning three classes. I won't forget this one."

One of the newer divisions at Louisville, the ladies' amateur section had another large crowd of championship performers from across the country. There were 18 in the gelding division on Monday night with household names from top to bottom. The judging panel called for 10 to perform again and what a workout it was.

Deborah Butler came out of the group riding Carolina Cat to the winner's circle while representing the Nelson Green Stables. It was a hard fought win with strong challenges from reserve champion Callaway's Regatta with Michele Macfarlane and third place finishers Kelly Theis and Matching Spirit, among others.

"It took me 30 years to get here," exclaimed Deborah Butler. "My Dad took my sister and I to Louisville in the early '60s and we saw My My, Bellissima, Tasha Ling, and stars like that and I said,'That's going to be me one day.' They just laughed but I was determined to get an education and have a career that would allow me to do this. To win a workout in this company is just unbelievable."

Also on Monday night the ladies' amateur mares took over Freedom Hall with 14 entries looking for a Louisville victory pass. Two of the most explosive mares in the business fought for the top spot with Amusing taking the title with two of the three first place votes. Riding from Premier Stables, Stacy Arnold Englert guided the Santana's Charm daughter to the world's title. A former Premier entry, Boo! secured one first place on her way to reserve honors with Barbara Goodman Manilow riding from the Richard Obenauf Stables. Dr. Nancy Trent Jones and Highpoint's Fandango were right in the mix for a third place finish.

There wasn't any room for error when the Five-Gaited Ladies' Amateur Championship was underway. What a collection of stars this was and showing the poise and ringmanship that have earned her many championship titles over the years, Michele Macfarlane took Callaway's Regatta to the world's grand champion honors. The Sultan's Great Day son held off many challenges including a strong one from reserve grand champions Boo! and Barbara Goodman Manilow. Paul Boone had Kathy Lyda Berger and five-year-old Prairie Dancer tuned for a good show to command third place honors placing ahead of Carolina Cat, Amusing, Highpoint's Fandango, I'm A Treat, and Callaway's Gossiper.

Although the focus of the Saddle Horse business has moved from the open division to the amateurs and juveniles, Louisville above all places still holds the open horses in the highest esteem. From starry eyed kids to veteran exhibitors most of those in attendance are ringside to witness the performances from he stallion, mare and gelding stakes.

And with the decline of five-gaited stallions showing, Louisville is only one of two major shows to still offer the coveted Five-Gaited Stallion Stake. Keeping its Monday night finale spot, the stud stake did have seven entries and starting the week off right Merrill Murray guided Joan Hammond's CH Superior's Successor to the world's champion title with a unanimous decision. He is sired by the former World's Champion Five-Gaited Stallion Superior Odds who thrilled this and many other show rings in the early '70s with Dick Kearney.

Challenging for the top spot was reserve world's champion Leatherwood's Starlight, the bay stallion Redd Crabtree has challenged with the past few years for Leatherwood Farm. He was sired by former world's champion performer Starlike Sultan. In third was last year's Five-Gaited Stallion World's Champion and former World's Grand Champion Zovoorbij Commander In Chief, again ridden by Bill Schoeman for Sam Webster.

The mare stake would close out the Tuesday night performance with nine entries and again it was offspring of former world's champion gaited performers taking the top prizes. A daughter of Callaway's Blue Norther, Adelita was hot off her championship performance at Shelbyville to take the mare title with Larry Hodge riding for longtime friend and owner David Rudder. Reserve champion honors went to last year's Junior Five-Gaited World's Grand Champion Undulata's Georgie Girl, a daughter of Attache's Liquid Asset ridden by Debbie Foley for Debbie Gabbert. Mitchell Clark and A Song In My Heart have been knocking on the door since they turned in strong performances at the American Royal last year and they finished the night in third.

The biggest group of open horses with top records came from the gelding stake which featured 11 hopefuls. After judges Ferrebee, Matthews, and Speck and put them through their gates both ways of the ring S.S. Genuine and Merrill Murray exited the pack with the world's champion title for David Nierenberg. It had been a long, tough road for the team especially behind Wild Eyed and Wicked the past two years, but this appeared to be their time to shine. The son of Sultan's Santana had two of the three first place votes. Lexington's grand champion, Callaway's Banner Headline, was catch ridden by Dena Lopez for the reserve title while Bob Vesel was still tender from a broken ankle suffered shortly after Lexington. Grand champion at Midwest among others this year, Callaway's Forecaster had the crowd going as they trotted out with a strong third place prize. A favorite at Louisville for many years, Callaway's Criterion was giving it another shot taking fourth with Jerry Hutson in the saddle for Nunley Saddlebreds.

Things were now in place for Saturday night's showdown for the biggest prize of all....but the question still remained, "Who would win it.?"

As tradition dictates the nine entries for the $50,000 Five-Gaited World's Grand Championship came into the ring one by one to the sound of My Old Kentucky Home. With a large stake night crowd on its feet the contenders entered the battlefield for a shot at placing their horse's name on the wall of honor that circles Freedom Hall. This was as even a playing field as there had been in some time which made it quite a competitive class.

The contenders were in numerical order: Callaway's Banner Headline and Dena Lopez, Desert's Supreme Memories and Virgil Helm, Time Well Spent and Debbie Foley, A Song In My Heart and Mitchell Clark, Studcor Donatello and Anne Judd, Leatherwood's Starlight and Redd Crabtree, Callaway's Forecaster and Nancy Leigh Fisher, Adelita with Larry Hodge, and S.S. Genuine with Merrill Murray aboard.

Early in the class riders were picking their spots and trying to feel their way through it. No one was taking charge, just making solid passes in anticipation of additional work. Crabtree called time out and took the gate with the reserve world's champion stallion Leatherwood Starlight. Following the class and individual presentations during the stripping, announcer Peter Doubleday said the words that people long to hear, even expect to hear for the last class of Saturday night, "would you like to see a little more?"

Back to the rail went Murray, Lopez, and Hodge. All three had Five-Gaited World's Grand Champion titles to their credit so this pressure was nothing new to them. Murray chomping his gum, Lopez flapping her elbows at the trot, and Hodge weaving his mare with a few one handed passes all had their trademarks working to their best advantage. The longer they went Murray and gelding kept pressing on making great passes at the slow gait, rack and trot. Lopez was giving Banner Headline everything she had and he responded with several strong passes. Meanwhile, Hodge and the mare were shining at the slow gait and rack.

When they lined up again there may have still been doubts among some of the spectators in the stands as to who the victor would be but Debbie Foley who was sitting in the middle aboard Time Well Spent started pumping her fist in the air and rode over to where owner David Nierenberg was sitting and yelled, "we did it." She was referring to Murray and S.S. Genuine, the team she had put together for Nierenberg. She then rode to Murray and told him the same thing. The smile on his face said he was more than happy with his horse's performance.

Sure enough announcer Peter Doubleday called out number 2094, S.S. Genuine as the new Five-Gaited World's Grand Champion. It was a unanimous decision of the judging panel and the crowd joined Foley in cheering the newly crowned grand champions.

"I've never seen anyone so happy to get beat in the championship as Debbie [Foley] was," said show manager Scarlett Mattson.

Foley was the one who put S.S. Genuine in the hands of Murray.

"She had been after me to take that horse for a while," said Murray. "It was during the time she had messed her knee up and she was having problems with that gelding. We were such good friends though that I didn't see any positives in me taking that horse so I kept telling her I didn't have any stalls. She finally tricked us.

"She was showing him at Shelbyville and ended up taking the gate so she came down to my barn and I wasn't there. She asked the boys if we had any stalls and they said, 'sure, we've got two.' I got back to the stalls and next thing I know she's leading that gelding [S.S. Genuine] down to my barn and tells me she's putting him on the truck and he's going home with me. I started to say something and she said, 'Don't even try it, I've asked the boys and you have stalls.'"

Reserve world's grand champion honors were bestowed upon the big doing mare Adelita, ridden by Larry Hodge for David Rudder. It was her first attempt at the roses and there was little doubt she would be back for another try. Dena Lopez and Callaway's Banner Headline gave it their all for Bob Vesel and the Kellett family's Alde-Mar Farm to take third place honors.

The crowd again went wild when Nancy Leigh Fisher and Callaway's Forecaster were called out in forth. Fisher acknowledged the audience for their support on her way out of the ring. Foley and Time Well Spent grabbed the fifth place ribbon for the Charles Goodman family and was followed by Virgil Helm and Desert's Supreme Memories, Mitchell Clark and A Song In My Heart, and Anne Judd with Studcor Donatello.

As Murray made a few remarks to the audience he thanked God and trainer Marty Mueller for the opportunity to be where he was and then remounted to make a few more passes with the newly crowned World's Grand Champion. With the tricolor ribbon streaming from the bridle and blanket of red roses draped over his shoulders S.S. Genuine was truly on top of the world taking with him Murray, Foley and the Nierenberg family. The celebration and congratulations would continue well into the night and another Louisville went into the history books.

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