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A Five-Time World’s Grand Champion - Big Red

by Bob Funkhouser

"This one is tough because he [Big Red] was like a family member," said Lillian Shively who purchased the bright red Standardbred in 2005 for husband Raymond’s 68th birthday. "We talked about it though and talked about how blessed we have been and still are so there is no pity party for us. Unfortunately, this is a part of it.

"He had one caretaker [Constance Young] the five years we had him. There were a lot of people who loved that horse."

The five-time World’s Grand Champion Roadster To Bike winner, Big Red died Wednesday, July 21 from complications of colic. It was a shocking and sad day for the entire DeLovely Farm family. The popular powerhouse was 14.

Owned at the time by Chappy Chapman, the bright chestnut gelding’s show horse career began in Florida under the guidance of Ruth Gimpel.

"He had come straight off the track and was not in good order," recalled Gimpel. "He had the worse case of thrush in both hind feet that I had ever seen. He was so kind though; he would let you doctor on him all day long.

"We named him Big Red after the Wrigley’s chewing gum. He was so sweet and easy to drive, it was just going to take some time to get him healthy."

They did get him to the horse show and took a good fourth in the Amateur Roadster To Bike Championship at Lexington Junior League, not bad for his second horse show ever. Thinking he had a buyer for him, Chapman brought him home from Lexington. He ended up sending him to J.D. Gardner who started readying him for the USTA Classic.

"I just tried to get him feeling even better," said Gardner. "I started him on Red Cell, double what I would normally give a horse."

They came out at Blue Ridge with a fourth place ribbon, however, with another month under their back pad, Big Red and Gardner turned it on at Louisville winning the prestigious and highly competitive USTA Roadster Classic World’s Championship.

"I would have never dreamed we would win at Louisville," exclaimed Gardner. "When I showed him at Blue Ridge he was still learning the process, but I thought a lot more of him after showing him there. At home he wasn’t much of a horse. In fact, there were only two things he cared about: one was groceries twice a day and the other was having a clean bed to lay down in after he ate. I don’t think he cared about anything else.

"Anyway, he got to feeling better and getting stronger and that’s when I thought I had a nice horse, but I still didn’t have any idea about winning the USTA Classic. When they called my number out I didn’t have a clue what it was and then they said Big Red and I said, ‘well I be damned.’

"He was so unique, so different than any other Standardbred I had worked or been around. Red was one of two horses that I’ve ever had that I wanted to keep forever, but obviously I couldn’t do that."

Wins at Decatur that fall and Pro-Am the next spring would be the last for Gardner and Big Red as Lillian Shively was birthday shopping for Papa Raymond. And thank goodness for Raymond that Euchee Matthews was there at Pro-Am to give Lil the green light.

"If he [Matthews] hadn’t told me it was okay, I probably wouldn’t have bought him," exclaimed Lillian. "I wanted to give Raymond something really special for his birthday, but I needed a nudge from someone else to confirm that this was the horse to buy. Euchee told me I was doing the right thing, so I did."

The right thing it was, the Master of Faster and his new student went right to work, winning the All American Roadster To Wagon Championship at the ARHPA Show. That would be the last time we saw him pull a wagon.

Shively then did a most memorable deed as he had the aging Pres Oder, a fellow Road Horse Hall Of Fame inductee, show Big Red at his hometown Midwest Charity Horse Show. With Shively on the rail coaching, Oder and Big Red brought the Midwest audience to its feet winning the open and championship.

Next to Louisville, one of Shively’s all-time favorite horse shows is Harrodsburg, Kentucky’s Mercer County Fair. They made one appearance that year, winning the open class and setting themselves up for the Kentucky State Fair the next month.

Like he has many times before with roadster greats Non-Stop, The Natural, Invincible Summer, and Power Ranger, Shively and Big Red torched the stallion/gelding qualifier and Roadster To Bike World’s Grand Championship, with Shively urging him on with that famous growl. Three more times he would win the stallion/gelding class, four more times he would wear the roses of World’s Grand Champion. Last year’s Louisville stallion/gelding qualifier was the first and only defeat of their career, coming at the hands of Debbie Foley and Trio Bolero G. Of course Shively came back Saturday night with a vengeance to command their fifth consecutive blanket of roses.

This year’s Midwest Charity Horse Show was Big Red’s last performance, his sixth consecutive Open Roadster To Bike blue and sixth consecutive Roadster To Bike Grand Championship.

Big Red left a lasting impact in the show ring but that impact went far beyond the blankets or roses and tricolors. He was special to a lot of people.

"The day he died is the first time I’ve seen Mark [Turner] and Todd [Miles] cry," said Raymond Shively. "He was something special. I am overwhelmed by the cards, phone calls and flowers we have received. I didn’t know he had that many fans. David Cunningham called and said, ‘Losing Big Red from the roadster division would be like losing Tiger Woods from the PGA.’

"I know he did a lot for J.D. [Gardner] and he did a lot for me. I’ve been fortunate to have had some really nice road horses, but he was just different. He did everything correctly from trotting the turns to getting down the straightaway. He would just glide down through there effortlessly."

Like several of the great ones, Big Red was born to be a show horse. He wasn’t particularly inspiring at home, but the minute he saw the bright lights, he knew it was show time!

"At home you would look at him and not even think about taking him to a horse show," said Shively. "Shoot, there would be times I would jog him three or four miles and I worked harder than he did. I would be wet and he never broke a sweat. Now, at the horse show when you put the overcheck on and he saw the other horses, he was ready to go. He just loved to show."

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