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Highs and Lows Headline 2006 UPHA/American Royal

by Bob Funkhouser

KANSAS CITY, Mo.- For the fourth time the UPHA and the American Royal partnered to produce a truly National Championship caliber horse show. It’s one of the best success stories to come out of the show horse industry in some time and certainly a feather in the cap of the UPHA.

Far too often we’ve seen many of our historic shows fade away as they couldn’t keep up with the times. This show was right at the top of the endangered list when the UPHA came riding to the rescue and with great effort from both sides of the fence, the Royal once again has secured its place as the third jewel in the Saddlebred/Hackney Triple Crown.

A core group of UPHA members and officers including Chuck Herbert, Jim Taylor, Randy Harper, Larry Bacon, John Jones and Jimmy Robertson have worked hand in hand with the Royal to restore this fabled competition to its glory days. Their vision and drive has been whole heartedly supported by the UPHA/American Royal National Championship Steering Committee of which Sarah Rowland and Horse Show Manager Fern Bittner have enthusiastically headed.

Nov. 14-18 was another week for celebration as the 2006 edition featured some 773 horses, ponies and equitation riders representing the best in the country competing for National Championships, Dabora/UPHA Classic Grand Championships, AHHS Youth Medallion National Championships and the longstanding UPHA and USEF Equitation National Finals.

“I thought the competition level was much deeper than it has been,” said Bittner. “We filled all the stalls which is what we have been doing, but the competition keeps getting better. I still get goose bumps thinking about the Five-Gaited Classic. They were coming down the rail five and six deep.

“Even though the ponies were a little better this year, I don’t know what it’s going to take to get more here. I’ve done everything I know how to do. I keep telling the pony exhibitors they’re going to be extinct if they don’t start going to the horse shows.”

Everything was on track for another star-studded year and then on Friday evening all present were stunned by the sudden death of one of the Hackney breed’s most enthusiastic exhibitors and supporters, Ed Frickey. Shortly after taking reserve in the Amateur Hackney Pony National Championship with Classical Dancer, Frickey suffered a fatal heart attack. He left this world doing what he loved most, but that certainly didn’t make it any easier for wife Karen, his trainers Randy and Denessa Harper and his many, many friends. Frickey was always the life of the party and the first one to step up and offer help to a fellow exhibitor.

It turned out to be a weekend filled with sadness as the very next morning we learned of the passing of Tim Lydon back in Massachusetts. A blacksmith of 45 years and exhibitor of Saddlebreds, Morgans and Hackneys, in addition to being the father of pony trainer Maureen Lydon, he lost his battle with cancer. Maureen had just won the Dabora/UPHA Harness Pony Classic Championship on Thursday night and then flew home to be with her father on what turned out to be his last day.
As it always has and always will, the show must go on.

There was so much good before and after the tragedy. It was a show Ed Frickey, an adamant UPHA supporter, would have been extremely proud of. The momentum has been building and this year kept it going forward.

Manager Fern Bittner and technical coordinator Kent Moeller had the green carpet rolled out as exhibitors came to town. The green carpet was the layer of green shavings covering the footing in the famous long, narrow ramp leading to a splendidly presented arena. A few finishing touches on last year’s improvements, including more rail side box seats, transformed Kemper Arena into a more than pleasing venue for a National Championship Horse Show.

A nice venue would be nothing without the proper professionals to plan and run the show. The American Royal officials are an all-star group from top to bottom. In addition to the above mentioned manager and technical coordinator, Peter Fenton was the announcer; Howie Schatzberg (assisted by Shane Shiflet) the photographer; Bill Whitley and Vern Serex were ringmasters; working as a great team, the in-gate announcer was Mark Farrar and the paddock announcer was Austin “Buddy” Waggoner; Beth Snider was the MOS Tabulator; Maryann Meiners and Kelly McFaul headed the show office; while Mary Lynn Whitley served as USEF Steward.

Saturday evening exhibitors were informed this was the last show ring appearance for ringmaster/horn blower Vern Serex. The mustached man with an arsenal of horns has entertained like no other for many years and his talents will be greatly missed.

Serex called many great champions to the ring throughout the week. At the top of the list was Thursday evening’s session. From the UPHA Exceptional Challenge Cup National Finals to the UPHA Senior Challenge Cup National Finals and eight Dabora/UPHA Classic Grand Championships there was exceptional talent class after class after class.

Those in attendance witnessed two of the greatest performances in the Saddlebred Classic Championships that have been seen in quite some time. It started with Joe Friday in the fine harness division. Nelson Green was at the whip for Kenny and Ceil Wheeler and this colt looked like no other Green has shown and that includes the likes of CH A Sweet Treat and CH Radiant Success. It’s hard to compare him to any greats of the past as Joe Friday has an unbelievably powerful look all his own.

“He’s very special, as good as any I’ve ever had,” said Nelson Green. “He’s got the size and dimensions of Radiant Success and the pizzazz of Sweet Treat. He was built to wear the harness and born to be a show horse.”

The last class of the night was a deep 13-entry Five-Gaited Classic Grand Championship. An entertaining and talented group of world and regional champions were present but it was the thunderous Catalyst’s Work Of Art finishing as the undisputed grand champion. Andy Freseth put her in the winner’s circle for an elated Nancy Leigh Fisher. “A pretty Wing Commander” has been one of the comparisons to this celebrated young star.

“I thought when I had Gypsy Supreme that I’d never have another gaited horse of that caliber,” said Andy Freseth. “You wouldn’t believe what it’s like to ride this mare. She makes you feel like you’re on the best one.

“Jim [Lowry] did a great job with her. I can’t say enough about the job he did. I’m looking forward to this winter getting to really know her and getting her ready for Nancy Leigh [Fisher]. She’ll [the mare] tell us who will show her next year. It’s going to be fun.”


You had to have a good one to win on Thursday night. For the past several years this has been a particularly good evening for Carriage Lane’s John Conatser. He kept the string alive with a tricolor ride aboard The Rock Star in the 22-horse Dabora/UPHA Three-Year-Old Park Pleasure Classic Grand Championship.

Chicago trainer Robert Gardiner had one of those “John Conatser type weeks” at the Royal as he won the Three-Gaited Classic Grand Championship with a wild going Harlem Globetrotter son appropriately named Harlem’s Showman. In addition, Gardiner won the Five-Gaited Mare Stake with Pucker Up and catch rode a colt for Mike Roberts to win the Two-Year-Old Three-Gaited Stake.

The Hackney Classic Championships were the best they had been in a while, especially in the long-tail and cob-tail sections. Majestic Oaks, Bacon Stables and Jimmy Miller Stables went home with the top money. Majestic Oaks won two of the four with Heartland Beautiful Dreamer and Hawkeye’s Seven Eleven. Beautiful Dreamer was absolutely sensational to win the Harness Pony Classic Championship for the second year in a row.

Art Birtcher’s Lord Ovation delivered the Dabora/UPHA Hackney Pony Classic Championship to Bacon Stables, while Heartland In A Minute turned it on to defeat a strong group of proven challengers in the road pony section for High Spirits Farm and Jimmy Miller Stables.

Even in the down years for the performance divisions at the Royal you could count on equitation being at the highest level. That level was sustained this year by Jacqueline Beck (UPHA Senior National Champion); Ellen Medley Wright (UPHA Junior National Champion); Alexandra Flynn (USEF Medal National Champion); and UPHA Walk and Trot National Champion Gavin Gagnon. Mary Catherine Swinson won the UPHA/American Royal Saddle Seat Equitation Championship, giving DeLovely Farm three of the five champions. Zubrod Stables and Fairfield South accounted for the other two.

Gavin Gagnon was part of an unusual trend. Young men seemed to dominate the junior exhibitor scene on a number of fronts. In addition to Gagnon, his brother, Kyle, was the reserve national champion in the USEF Medal for Gary and Marsha Garone’s Fairfield South.

Also in the equitation division, the relatively unknown Nick Maupin rode to national prominence with the reserve national championship in the UPHA Junior Challenge Cup Finals and a blue ribbon finish in the well-filled 11-13 class. The Mattons’ Knollwood Farm is home for Maupin.

Justin Cowley had many in the crowd going, “Who’s that?” They were asking because Cowley gave Colonel Hoss two rides that would rival the coolest and calmest veteran professional. Riding for trainer Clark Clouse and owner Tricolor Saddlebreds, Cowley displayed confidence and showmanship far beyond his years. He was rewarded with the Junior Exhibitor Five-Gaited National Championship and 15-17 qualifying blue. Those titles went with his reserve finish in the Five-Gaited Pony National Championship aboard King Crimson.

“This is a good kid,” said Clouse. “And he can flat ride a horse.”

Another young man excelled in yet another division. Riding from the Mark Hulse Stables, Scott Pisarik paraded CH Steel In Love down victory lane in the Junior Exhibitor Three-Gaited 15-17 class. They then finished third in a deep championship that included CH Blackberry Delight and Wee Pee’s Storm as the grand champion and reserve grand champion.

Always a Royal favorite, Max Kaplan won the AHHS Youth Medallion Road Pony 13 and Under National Championship with Boxford Courageous Spirit; Jeb Boyd won the Junior Exhibitor Road Pony and AHHS Youth Medallion 14-17 Reserve National Championship with Heartland Painted Creation; and Will Mayo made the victory pass in the Junior Exhibitor Hackney Pleasure Driving Pony class with Motown. They were followed by Beau Rash driving Heartland Equalizer.

When was the last time you could remember that many young men winning classes at one show, especially a show of this caliber?

There is a lot of tradition to the UPHA/American Royal. Each year they honor a horseperson of the year and an exhibitor of the year. On Tuesday evening William Woods graduate Renee Biggins was the Royal’s Horseperson Of The Year. Biggins is the force behind the highly successful UPHA Exceptional Challenge Cup.

Later in the week, Ruth and R.S. Palmer, legends in their own time, were saluted in center ring as the 2006 Royal Exhibitors. They began showing at the American Royal in the late 1940s.

Another tradition at the American Royal is the Mo/Kan division. This year longtime exhibitor Karen Coup and her daughter Katie added their names to the Mo/Kan history books. The Coup family won every gaited class offered in the Mo/Kan division. Showing from the Mike Roberts Stables, Karen and What’s The Whoopla won the Mo/Kan Amateur Five-Gaited Championship and qualifier, while Kate rode Reedann’s Steppin Out to the Mo/Kan Open Five-Gaited blue and Tom Bass Memorial Mo/Kan Five-Gaited Championship.

There were a few other milestones inside Kemper Arena. Winning hasn’t gotten old for Hollow Haven’s Nancy Anderson and CH Callaway’s Pretty Penny. It was their fifth time to make the victory pass as the Country Pleasure Driving National Champions.

CH Amusing won the Ladies Five-Gaited Mare class for the fourth consecutive year. Premier stablemate CH Pas De Deux also won the Ladies Three-Gaited National Championship for the fourth consecutive time.

Amateur Three-Gaited National Champions, Sarah Rowland and CH An Heir About Her were once again hometown favorites. Moving to the amateur division this year, CH An Heir About Her was the Three-Gaited National Champion the past two years.

After what had been disappointingly average attendance from the general public through most of the week, the seats filled on Saturday evening and the hometown spectators were treated to prime time performances worthy of national championship titles.

Among them was the history making six-time Fine Harness World’s Grand Champion CH Callaway’s Copyright. He was a great addition to the Kansas City competition winning both his classes with John T. Jones at the whip for Fox Grape Farms.

Made for prime time, the Amateur Five-Gaited National Championship followed a few classes later and it turned into a duel between two of the most decorated gaited horses of the decade, CH Swish and CH Boo! This was Carol Hillenbrand and Swish’s night.

The very next class featured CH Kalarama’s New Sensation, Harlem’s Santa Fe, CH Cary’s Moonraker and Gone Platinum in the top four spots of a deep Amateur Fine Harness National Championship.

It’s been one of those magical years for the versatile Jim and Fay Lowry. Well-known for their world class Morgans, they made front-page news this year as Jim won three classes at Louisville, including the Three-Year-Old Five-Gaited Mare World’s Championship with the sensational Catalyst’s Work Of Art before selling her to Nancy Leigh Fisher.

Lowry finished out his season winning the Three-Gaited National Championship aboard Lace’s Last Tango, an entry owned by Priscilla Marconi’s Tricolor Ventures. They had to be on the money as Boston Legal and CH Rejoice followed in second and third.

Saturday night’s Three-Gaited Park Championship was a who’s who event. National Champion Lime Twisted Gin was joined by Ya Ya, His Supreme Reflection, Tax Man, The Woodsider, CH Like An Admiral and Gigolo Joe. The list went on and on.

Raymond Shively loves to entertain the Royal audiences with his road horses. He did a great job driving Big Red to the National Championship. Shively’s DeLovely trained entries also swept the wagon division as stablemates Power Ranger and Invincible Summer traded places from the qualifier to the championship.

One of the reasons the championships are so well filled on Saturday night is the prize money. There was $50,000 at stake in the Five-Gaited National Championship. A winning performance would earn $10,000.

When the 2006 UPHA/American Royal came to a close, hometown entry Memorize stood alone in the winner’s circle. Sired by former American Royal Five-Gaited Grand Champion Desert’s Supreme Memories, Memorize was ridden to victory by Melinda Moore for Linda Hollett of Kansas City, Mo.

What a fitting end to a week of national championship competition.

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