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Lexington Junior League - Saturday Night

Matthew Shiflet was a junior exhibitor in 1999. Let that sink in for a minute. Now just 15 years later, the pride of Asheboro High School has accomplished more in that timeframe than some will accomplish in a lifetime, and a lot of it has come on this very track. Think back to 2001. Remember now that in 1999, Matthew showed Aces & Eights to fourth in the Junior Exhibitor Five-Gaited Stake here. Ok. Now let’s return to July 2001. Matthew wins the Five-Gaited Mare Stake with Glider’s Star. It took the eventual World’s Grand Champion Wild-Eyed And Wicked to beat him in the big Stake, where he was the reserve champion. Two years out of junior exhibitor. And he brought the house down. They would be the Five-Gaited Mare Reserve World’s Champion that year with the grand little spitfire, losing out that Tuesday night to the great Jim Koller aboard My Chanel.

He has always been a showman, young Matthew. His talents he comes by naturally, as there isn’t a soul in our world that doesn’t well know the long and storied history of the Shiflet clan and indeed their long association with success on the Red Mile in particular. His career arc since that Saturday night in 2001 has not been so much an arc as an inexorable climb. Four years later, he and Glider’s Star were back atop Lexington’s Five-Gaited Mare Stake, settling for the reserve championship once again on Saturday night. This time it wasn’t the World’s Grand Champion keeping them from the top prize, it was merely the eventual Reserve World’s Grand Champion, Carlswald Prince’s Dominoe with Lionel Ferreira.

And that was as close as he had come to this storied title on this legendary track. He had not yet added his name to the ranks of trainers like this list from just the last 10 years: Melissa Moore, Merrill Murray, Debbie Foley, Rob Byers, Peter Cowart, Todd Miles, and Lionel Ferreira. Among just those winners from the past 10 years, you can count 11 Five-Gaited World’s Grand Championships and several Reserve World’s Grand Championships, not to mention the countless World’s Champions trained. Outside of the last 10 years, you see the true history and legend of this horse show, where names like Teater, Bradshaw, Harris, and Moore crop up over and over again. Will Matthew Shiflet take a place among those stars? That is a question obviously impossible to answer. But he took yet another step on that path tonight, etching his name into history as Lexington’s Five-Gaited Grand Champion with Roselane’s Angelo.

Perhaps Matthew’s biggest boon, besides his supportive wife and partner Whitney and son Clayton, is the group of customers and friends he has surrounded himself with. Matthew hung out the sMs banner in 2007 (the Matt Shiflet Stables logo is two lower case “s” on either side of a capital “M.”) That was another big stride, with one of his biggest winners coming up big the next year for huge barn supporters Christina and Andrea Athanasuleas. Juliette’s Deja Blue would win five times at Lexington over the next three years, winning the Amateur Three-Gaited Championship in both 2008 and 2009. Those two blues in 2008 were two of the very first on this track for Matt Shiflet Stables.
Things jumped up another notch in 2009 with the arrival of Don and Phyllis Brookshire. Matthew and the Brookshires have been a great team together, with Don looking like he’s never had more fun at a horse show. Don informed us earlier in the week that he had come to Lexington in many different ways over the years, from riding in the trailer with the horses to flying in on a private jet while working a private job. This week might have been his favorite yet. The Brookshires have continued to buy and sell well under the direction of Matt Shiflet, doing well on seemingly every horse they have purchased. Tonight, they looked even smarter for having taken Matthew’s guidance. Not only did they win the gaited stake with Roselane’s Angelo, they also won the Amateur Five-Gaited Championship with Callaway’s No More Mr. Nice Guy! More on that later.

That brings us to Wes Hall, a stalwart of the Matt Shiflet Stables crew, not as a customer, but as a best friend and biggest fan. Wes might get more worked up watching Matthew show a great one than Matthew himself. And every time he rides by, Matthew takes a look at Wes for guidance. It’s a lifelong friendship that these two share. Wes was there on the rail, the Brookshires were sitting in the last row of the infield box seats, and the entire Matt Shiflet Stables crew was screaming loud and proud as Matthew put Roselane’s Angelo to work tonight to the strains of “My Old Kentucky Home.” In fact, they looked as if Wes Hall was heading up the student section at a Clemson Tigers game, as they didn’t sit down the entire first trot! Slow gait time came, and Matthew gave his signature head tilt and perch. He sits perfectly still. He doesn’t move. And he cocks his head just those few degrees to the inside. Something about it draws the eye. He even gave a nod to the great ones to come before him on this track, giving it his best Don Harris on the way into the lineup, racking with one hand on the reins and one fist on his hip.

As the class was being stripped, Chris Athanasuleas was asked if she was more nervous tonight or when Honey Badger was showing last year. She said it was equal. Don Brookshire went on to say, “Angelo is everybody’s horse. He is a Matt Shiflet Stables horse. You’ve got to have a stake horse as a trainer.” That sums it up perfectly. Matt and Whitney have fostered a culture where the entire barn pulls for each other. They want the barn itself to succeed just as much as they want to succeed themselves, and against all odds in a vanity and ego-driven business, it comes across as absolutely genuine.

As is well-documented already, Roselane’s Angelo was the unanimous Five-Gaited Champion for Don and Phyllis Brookshire, for Matt Shiflet Stables, and for Matthew himself. The reserve championship honors went to the champion of the past two years, It’s Double O’ Deuce. Melissa Moore rode once again for SGF Winning Ways Farm. Double O’ Deuce is the same horse every time he sets foot in the show ring full of presence and athletic ability. You will always get his absolute best performance. By It’s Hammertime and out of VHF York’s Spillway, it will be exciting to see if he passes that great heart and trainability along to his sons and daughters. Also in the hunt in what was an extremely competitive championship, Eastside and A.J. Bruwer were up for third for Theresa Vonderschmitt, with Lionel Ferreira and Cloverleaf Fleur De Lis fourth for Susan Swope.

The SMS crew also had reason to cheer in the Ladies Amateur Five-Gaited Championship. Here was yet another unanimous winner, Honey Badger, shown by Andrea Athanasuleas. Last year’s Five-Gaited Gelding World’s Champion and the Junior Five-Gaited World’s Champion of Champions the year before that, Honey Badger has a persona around him, developed with Matthew and now carried on into seven straight victories with Andrea. He doesn’t care where he goes, he’s going to put on a show! Kelsey Price only gets into the ring on rare occasions for Pleasantview Farm. She showed here a year ago, then took her next trip to the ring in the Amateur Five-Gaited Championship at Rock Creek this year, taking the tricolor there with Don’t Ask Me. They wore the tricolor here in the 2012 amateur championship as well, settling for the reserve championship tonight in ladies amateur competition. Susan Shepherd handles the qualifying duties for Kelsey, who comes in from real life for the championship rounds. Belle Reve’s So Photogenic looks tuned up and ready with Liz Shatner. They finished up in third, with Supremacy’s High And Mighty and Ali DeGray in fourth.

Another five-gaited class, another unanimous win for Matt Shiflet Stables, as Callaway’s No More Mr. Nice Guy and Phyllis Brookshire were the Amateur Five-Gaited Champions for Don and Phyllis Brookshire. Three five-gaited classes, nine first-place votes for the team tonight. This horse could not be bred much better. He is by the great Callaway’s Blue Norther and out of Broodmare Hall of Famer Sweet Sachet. She herself is out of another Broodmare Hall of Fame mare, Town Flower. Phyllis teamed this horse in the show ring for the first time here a year ago and sold him here one year later. Danny Cummins certainly had a great night. He and Finest Hour Spent were the reserve champions in this great class for Danny and Kathy Cummins. Jack Magill directs this top team in their second campaign together. Finest Hour Spent is by I’m A New Yorker and out of A Tad Finer, by Star Material. They were also reserve in the amateur stallion/gelding qualifier. Justin Cowley was a popular third with New York’s Real Magic, while Brittany Baird had a good ride on She’s Packin’ for fourth.

The 78th Saturday night of Lexington Junior League began as Saturday night begins here, with the Senior Saddle Seat Equitation Championship. It can trend toward an endurance test in black formals under the July sun, and tonight was not an exception. All 10 riders performed the pattern which was rather inventive, consisting of a box performed off the rail, in the center of the ring. It emphasized precision and finished with a final trot pass without stirrups. The level of parity in equitation this year is incredible, with the top tier of riders being separated by the smallest of margins. Every night it will take the best of efforts to take the top prize, from here and on to Louisville and the Finals. Tonight it was Aleia Brown continuing her ownership of this class, having won it now two years in a row. She got a big hug from trainer Erin Richey as she rode into the winner’s circle aboard Madeira’s Fame. The list of riders to have ever won this class is going to read like a “Who’s Who.” The list of riders to have won it twice will see some very serious names. Juliette Dell secured one of the biggest prizes of her young Saddlebred equitation career, taking the reserve championship with CH-EQ Imagine My Surprise. Juliette reached the Top Ten in all three National Finals a year ago, finishing in the top four in the grand finale, the USEF Saddle Seat Medal National Finals. She continues to improve as the competition heats up this summer. Eleanor Rainbolt Forbes and Courtney McGinnis were third and fourth in this great group, followed by Brooke Boyer and Caroline Cherry.

Popping strong off both ends, Anna Wintour was the beautiful black winner of the Park Pleasure Championship with Robert Gardiner. Announced initially as an entry of High Spirits Farm, Anna Wintour was listed with a new owner in the victory pass, as she was selected by All-Well Farm for Allie Wellington Nunley. She suits this job exceptionally well, having lost just once under saddle class all year, going seven for eight, with one reserve. By The Mystery Writer and out of Magic Talk, Mystery Magic was the reserve champion with Rob Byers up for Ashlyn Farms. This chestnut mare has the smallest of stars and one hind white. She has been a consistent winner all year long.

In the Friesian Walk-and-Trot class on The Red Mile, always bet on black. That seems like a pretty easy bet though, with another huge field making the trip over from Breyer Fest to show in this championship. Ilus Waldman delighted the crowd with his impeccable headset and lofty manner. He carried Annika Bruggeworth to the tricolor for Siren Song. The Three-Year-Old Friesian Walk-and-Trot Pleasure World Champion a year ago, he now has 15 wins in his two-year career. Qualifier winner Setske fan T Grutslan was the reserve champion tonight with Jennifer Cunningham aboard. The owner/trainer/rider has had incredible success with Setske over their seven seasons together.
All three entries in the Road Pony Championship were by Dun-Haven Regal Attraction and were produced by Light Farms. Regal’s Lightning Strike LF was the unanimous champion with Mary Gaylord McClean driving for Golden Creek Farms. The 2011 World’s Grand Champion has twice been a World’s Champion and twice a Reserve World’s Champion in the two years since that title. Also from Golden Creek Farms, Regal’s Wild Card LF was the reserve champion. Abel Vega trains and drives this one. Wild Card is out of Romeo’s Keepsake LF. Wild Card was the Kentucky County Fair Champion in 2011, moving to Abel’s string after that. Regal’s Special Effort LF and Sherry Frankel finished up in third in this good class while having a great time.

“Arizona” was the winner in the 14-17 Three-Gaited Championship, as Madison Stringer took the unanimous victory pass aboard I’m In Heaven. Another tricolor winner on the night from Cape Cod, Madison has spent the summer at the Ohio base, getting an exceptional amount of saddle time. It has paid off greatly, as the Scottsdale-based Madison had her best rides to date right here on the Red Mile. I’m In Heaven is just a six-year-old, coming into his own this year, making solid shows this week and putting all of his gifts on display. The hinged up Watermark’s A Kiss For Luck was the reserve champion with Caroline Rainbolt Forbes riding for Rainbow Princess Farms. From DeLovely, Kiss For Luck and Caroline have been teamed since Louisville 2012, when they were Reserve World’s Champion of Champions.

Merrill Murray has Cosmic Charm tuned up and ready for Grand Vin Stables. Twice winners this week, the trimmed in white Cosmic Charm and Merrill won the Fine Harness Championship here for the second year in a row. Cosmic Charm is by Powerful Charm LCC and out of Tornaado’s In A Hartbeat, another Tornaado mare producing well. Talk Is Money was the reserve champion here with Jim Lowry making his show ring return this week for Tri-Color Ventures. The Junior Fine Harness Stallion/Gelding World’s Champion a year ago was the Two-Year-Old Fine Harness winner at Kentucky Fall Classic in 2011 with Rob Tanner, giving Rob his final victory pass. This horse continues to mature well for the Lowry/Marconi team.

Danny Cummins topped a well-matched field in the Amateur Three-Gaited Championship. He showed Attache’s Popeye to the tricolor for Danny and Kathy Cummins. Longtime friend and trainer Jack Magill looked thrilled as could be with the hard-earned prize. Amateur gentlemens winner earlier in the week, this was Popeye’s biggest win to date. He is by Attache’s Royal Assets and out of a Radiant Sultan mare. Dr. Merrell Magelli and The Toy Soldier also had one of their best rides, earning a second reserve win on the week. Directed by Lionel Ferreira, this was their fifth reserve win of the year. Toy Soldier is by Undulata’s Nutcracker and out of Nativity Town, by Talent Town. Callaway’s Reality Show and Deborah Orr were third, followed by Re-Energized and Elizabeth Ververeli in fourth. Again, another deep championship for Lexington Junior League.

Jeff McClean continued a great week for Golden Creek Farms, winning the Hackney Pony Championship with Senator, a leg-waving gelding with lots of white. Headed up by Tom Lowry, Senator was the open qualifier winner earlier. He is by LLF Top Of The Mark and out of Heartland Country Music, by Dun-Haven Bandolier. Three times a Reserve World’s Champion with Abel Vega, Senator is just a five-year-old. Chip Wise and the current Reserve National Champion Front Page News were the reserve champions here for Chip and Cheri Wise and trainer Brian Yount.

Drew Taylor Hewitt got a big high five from dad Andy as she prepared to make her victory pass in the Three-Gaited Show Pleasure Championship. DT took on a field of 20, weathering that storm to make a workout group of 10. She never took her foot off the gas aboard CH Fort Chiswell’s Prince Charming, making an all-out show, blasting down the rails for Eva Anderson to take the tricolor. Prince Charming is by Attache’s Royal Assets, the longtime standby of the Fort Chiswell program, and out of a Santana’s Charm mare. CH Kent Brockman not only survived the workout, he thrived in it with Bridget McNeese. He kept getting better and better as the night wore on for Grey Ridge Farm. Owned by Catherine Carter McNeese, Kent Brockman is by Jon Bugatti and out of a Harlem Globetrotter mare. The giant chestnut gelding was the Show Pleasure Champion at Devon last month. Also in the workout were CH Story To Tell with Susan Orton, Warranty Connection with Deborah Orr, Baxter Black with Alexa Noble, Callaway’s Blue Moon Rising with Gretchen Bentz, Pippin with Dr. Morgan Wolin, Forty Nights with Abby Mutrux, Standing Guard with Taylor Newton, and It’s All About George with Traci Massaro.

With the workout in the Show Pleasure Championship, the Three-Gaited Championship entries had to stand out on the track an extra 20 minutes or so. Smith Lilly kept the grand mare My Hail Mary in line for the tricolor for Woodlea Farms, keeping her solidly in the top tier of contenders for Louisville this year. By Revival and out of Crimson Blue, My Hail Mary was also the Three-Gaited Champion at Devon. She was the Ladies Three-Gaited Over 15.2 World’s Champion and the Ladies Reserve World’s Champion of Champions in 2013. Another Reserve World’s Champion of Champions from a year ago, Don O’Neill was the reserve champion tonight with Chris Reiser. Owned by World Calm LLC, Don O’Neill was the winner of the under 2 qualifier this week. He is famously by Undulata’s Nutcracker and out of World’s Grand Champion Garland’s Dream. Soquili’s Manolito and Derrick Westrbrook were third for Susan Hanna, followed by Sir Silver Knight and Annika Bruggeworth in fourth.

Go Daddy is back in the show ring this year and looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. Owned by Wireless Valley Farms and trained by Melissa Moore, he was the Harness Pony Champion tonight with Melissa driving. Sired by Twin Willow’s McMillan and out of Juliana, by Vindicator, Go Daddy is a full brother to World’s Champion Outside The Lines. Going up against the aged ponies as just a four-year-old, Handsome Harry was the reserve champion for Golden Creek Farms. Driven by Jeff McClean, amazingly hooked necked Handsome Harry is by Twin Willow’s Handsome Dan and out of Heartland Mary Belle.

It is just the first year in the show ring for the Three-Gaited Park Champion, Callaway’s Aperitif. Shown by Michael Buchanan for SGF Winning Ways Farm, Aperitif is by Caramac and out of Callaway’s Sweet Clover, making her a full sister to Broodmare Hall of Famer Callaway’s Carousel. This pretty bay mare is just six years old, taking her first victory pass of what looks to be a good career. By Nocturnal and out of Strawberry Pie, Frankenberry was the Reserve Champion with Jesse West riding for Alliance Stud. This was the best prize for Frankenberry on the year, his first full season under saddle.

Caitlin Cline looked to be absolutely thrilled with her unanimous win in the Ladies Amateur Three-Gaited Championship. She took Soquili’s Georgia Kracker to the winner’s circle to meet trainer Todd Graham. Caitlin’s dark purple formal coat stood out nicely under the lights. A celebrity since her UPHA Three-Gaited Classic National Championship with Bob Brison in 2008, Georgia Kracker was one of the first big names produced by Undulata’s Nutcracker. She is out of Callaway’s Baby Blue, by Blue Norther. Abby Mutrux knows this track well and she put all of her skills on display for a reserve championship with Caramina’s Wow. An entry of Cross Timbers Saddlebreds, this one is trained by Lowry Stables. By Tornaado and out of Caramina, Wow was shown by an amateur for the first time this week.

Letting the others have a turn at this show sometimes, Raymond Shively has only won the Roadster to Bike Championship here five times since 2002. We should also mention that he has only shown in this class those same five times. Tonight it was Warhorse as the tricolor bearer for DeLovely. He was the novice winner her in 2014, looking poised now to be the next big star for the Master of Faster. Jeff Lukens drove his Beaucourt Boy to the reserve championship from Lukens Stables. This was the second year in a row for them to claim this prize. Beaucourt Boy was the champion here in 2011. He was the reserve champion a third time back in 2010.

After that, the table was set for Matt Shiflet and Roselane’s Angelo to ride off into Red Mile history, bringing the greatest outdoor show in the country to a close. This year felt more upbeat. Not a single drop of rain fell during a show session this year, which may have never happened before. After all, the incoming show chair inherits a raincoat, umbrella, and Wellies. It’s not like we don’t know what we are getting into when we turn onto Red Mile Road each and every year. Maybe we are at the beginning of an upswing? Maybe it was just for this year, but one thing will never change, we will never see another setting like this one. You couldn’t create it. It just IS.

It may not be as good as it once was, but it’s as good once, as it ever was.

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