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Lexington - Saturday Night

by David "Tuffy" Owens

Lexington is based and solidly founded in tradition. Forget the Masters on CBS, this is a tradition unlike any other. This is the horse show people come back to, not because it is the horse show, but because they have to. They can’t not. It is a place where competition gets set aside for camaraderie. Ribbons are wonderful, but this is a horse show where the experience itself is unlike any other. It has been a few years now since the drums of development have been beating down the doors of the Red Mile, since the question wasn’t if we were going to have to find a new venue but when, and how very soon it seemed and sounded at that time. The reality stares you straight in the face when you look across the track and see not the grand sale pavilion that was once Tattersalls, but giant yellow construction vehicles and an empty plot of land. It is right on our doorstep, and the knocking is getting louder.

It will be a tragic day when that last domino tips, and this grand venue falls by the wayside, as the student housing, and truly the apartment industry as a whole, boom around the vast expanse that is the University of Kentucky. This is prime real estate that our exquisite American Saddlebreds and Hackney Ponies tread upon. Fifty years from now, the people shopping at the store or eating at the restaurant or living at the house that will be set where the finish line of the Red Mile once stood will have no knowledge of the records set in their living room, where Greyhound and Sep Palin smashed the Mile Trot world record on September 29, 1938, where Niatross was the first Standardbred to ever break 1:50, going 1:49.1 in a mile pace on October 1, 1980. They will not know of the horseshoe winner’s circle with the “Red Mile” shrubbery, where Giddy Up Go and Imperator stood with Don Harris. That’s aisle 14 of the grocery store now. It is a truth, albeit a sad one.

At the turn of the 20th century, the most popular sports in the US were baseball, boxing, and horse racing. All but one of those has fallen by the wayside now, far from the mainstream, aside from three Saturdays a year for horse racing, and really there is only one that matters to the public at large. Times change. When was the last time you even heard mention of the Hambletonian, the greatest of trotter races, the Standardbred equivalent of the Kentucky Derby? That is an entire industry that now flies under the radar. And we host one of our grandest traditions on a trotting track.

All of the preceding leads to one important point. Enjoy this. Love it for what it is, for what it represents. This horse show is a thing of beauty. It is beloved. Even when it is a rainy, muddy, mucky mess, people want to, nay, need to be here. It is singular in our horse show world. And the Red Mile is its soul.

This year’s Saturday night carried with it the tradition of the 75 previous Lexington Saturday nights, a tradition begun by Mrs. Marie Kittrell, who decided that the Junior Leaguers needed to step up their fundraising efforts with a horse show, rather than working on their bridge games. With W. Jefferson Harris at the helm of the show, what we know now as Lexington Junior League Horse Show was launched in 1937. That year, 216 horses from 16 states descended on Lexington, raising nearly $5,500 for the Junior League. The next year, it rained the entire four-day length of the horse show… Seriously. We can’t make this stuff up. They even tried to buy “rain insurance,” but it proved too costly.

To add history on top of tradition, let’s return to the aforementioned Greyhound. Frances Dodge Van Lennep, she of the great Dodge Stables and Wing Commander fame, broke the world record for trotting under saddle on that very same Greyhound. As legend holds, it was just the second time he had ever been ridden. That record would stand until broken by Money Maker, 54 years later, who was ridden by Mrs. Van Lennep’s daughter, Fredericka Caldwell. Wait, it gets even better. Guess who next year’s chairperson will be? Elizabeth Caldwell, the daughter of Fredericka, granddaughter of Frances Dodge. These are the stories that tie this horse show to this city, to this track. We have, as the Junior League puts it, “The successful blending of the exhibitor, the spectator, the businessman, and the volunteer.” And we wouldn’t want it any other way.

This is but a longwinded way to bring us to the Shakespearean tragedy that was Saturday night, right down to the missed timing and connections. Romeo and Juliet would have been proud. Heck, the Greeks would have been proud of this one. We begin our tale with the darkness of Friday night, when the track was abysmal, standing puddles abound, and all looked lost, as the all-day rainstorm let up for Friday’s evening session after drenching every exhibitor, spectator and official on Friday morning. With still that last ray of hope, a sunny Saturday, Stake Night would be saved! And then it was 4 p.m. And the skies fell open. It was the most torrential downpour of the week. Juliet looked, for all intents and purposes to be dead. And it crushed the souls of those stalwart few who were prepared to make a go of it; to at least give it a shot. They came in droves to scratch their Saturday night entries. Romeo had taken the poison. And then the rain stopped. And then the crowd showed up. And then they looked at the track. Where was the standing water? Where was the sloppy mess? Juliet had awakened. What no water truck driver could accomplish, the good Lord did. The base of this sand surface was finally soaked to the core. It had finally taken hold. Where is the beach the easiest to run on? Right by the water, where it is wettest! If you watched closely on Saturday night, horses were able to take hold of the surface like they had not been able to the entire week. The top two inches of the track were admittedly still heavy, but when the gaited horses landed, they dug in. They didn’t have to swim like they had early on in the week. But it was too late. The entries were scratched, Romeo was deceased, and he took with him the walk-trot stake and the long-tail stake.

It is a testament to the efforts of the self-titled “K&D Construction” team of Kent Moeller and Dewey Huckaby, though with the multi-talented Dewey Bass on the crew, they might have to change it to K & Double D Construction.” By all rights, this show surface should have wound up in disaster, and they brought it back from the edge. While we the horse show faithful enjoyed a dinner at one of the wonderful Lexington restaurants like the traditional favorites a la Lucie, Dudley’s, and deSha’s, or relative newcomers like Azur or The Tulip, they fought the elements. And won. It was the best show surface of the entire week.

The Junior Leaguers are nothing if not resourceful and enterprising. The signs were up advertising umbrellas for sale in the horse show office, yet another fundraising opportunity! But they weren’t really needed on Saturday night. Occasionally a few drops would fall, but never anything to force the mass exodus to the upstairs seating or under the grandstand overhang where Howie Schatzberg’s photo trailer now lives during the week of Junior League. It was actually quite a beautiful night by the time five Senior Saddle Seat Equitation Championship riders came to the ring, with three of them being from DeLovely. They grow ‘em tough in Rockport. They also craft phenomenal equitation riders, as they swept the top three spots. Hunter Chancellor has grown into an excellent horsewoman, coming by it with a perfect combination of natural ability and blood, sweat and tears. She has been unstoppable this season. She is unbeaten in nine Equitation classes. She showed Imagine My Surprise to a unanimous victory in the opener here on Saturday night. Courtney McGinnis is also coming into her own in her first year in the senior ranks, topping the 14-15 qualifier and earning the reserve championship in this one. Teamed with CH-EQ Kiss Of The Zodiac, Courtney has the smooth style of sister Brittany with her own touch of flair. Junior Equitation World’s Champion a year ago, and a factor in both the NHS Good Hands and UPHA Senior Challenge Cup Finals as well, Courtney will be have her say in the outcome of the next few months of horse show. Tayler Walters has a much shorter history at DeLovely, taking her talents there just last year. Showing with CH-EQ Coco Mojo for the first time this week, she was a strong third in their first tricolor try.

The picturesque night continued with Park Avenue Diva and Reese Richey earning another tricolor for Cape Cod Farm. ASR Four-Year-Old Park Pleasure Sweepstakes Champions a year ago, these two are a solid duo, with Reese putting all those years of equitation prowess to work, crafting a superb overall picture. By Callaway’s Guy Park, Diva is out of a full sister to the wonderful CH French Silk Stockings. Qualifier winner Sophie Simpson was the reserve champion with Danette Musselman riding for Dale Musselman. Sophie began her career as an in hand horse, winning the ASR Kentucky Amateur Yearling Futurity at Louisville. Danette has directed her entire career, as she was also bred by the Musselman family. By their great Rifles And Roses, Sophie is out of Classiphied Edition, dam of CH Pistolero. Sure She Can and Whitney Shiflet (awwww her first time showing as a Shiflet) were third for Dr. John Cummins. Lord Bancroft and Samantha Hegstrom were fourth for Sandcastle Show Horses.

It was the Light Farms Invitational Road Pony Championship, as the influential pony breeders, Dan and Leah Light, produced all three of the entries. Tom Lowry captained the champion, Regal’s Promoter LF, for Golden Creek Farms. Twice a Louisville winner last year as the Junior Road Pony World’s Champion of Champions and Four-Year-Old Road Pony World’s Champion, Promoter was also the Three-Year-Old Road Pony World’s Champion the year before. Undefeated in Freedom Hall, he will head back for another shot at the green shavings in just a few short weeks. Regal’s Special Effort LF and Lauren Greenwald earned the reserve championship for SGF Winning Ways Farm. Showing under the Sunrise Stables banner, Special Effort is by Dun-Haven Regal Attraction and out of a Canterbury Conqueror mare.

With good friend Dakota Willimon showing in the qualifier, Kelsey Price was in from her Nashville base to show Don’t Ask Me to the Amateur Five-Gaited Championship for Pleasantview Farm. Oh, real life, how you get in the way of horse show schedules! While it wasn’t quite the same as the 18-horse stampede of a year ago, it did take a strong effort from this team, now in their fourth season together. They showed to their best Lexington finish tonight. Suzanna Crews, former teammate of The Decisive Moment, has another formidable contender in Callaway’s Already Gone. He is by CH Caramac and out of Callaway’s Cashflow. They showed to the reserve championship, second of back-to-back reserve tricolors for Sunrise Stables on a busy night.

Here comes the sun, as a rainbow draped the downtown backdrop leading up to the 14-17 Three-Gaited Stake. House and the Mouse found the tricolor at the end of the rainbow, sweeping this division at Junior League. Officially this was Hannah Houske aboard The Mighty Mouse to win the class. The dark chestnut six-year-old gelding is by Sir William Robert and out of Hollywood Bucks, by CH Caramac and out of Broodmare Hall of Famer Buck’s Cotton Tail. In five performances this week, Hannah won three times and was reserve once. Add that to her 14-17 qualifier win a year ago with Mighty Mouse, and you begin to sense a trend here! Milo Jones joined them in the winner’s circle once again in 2012. They are now set to return to Freedom Hall to defend their 14-17 Three-Gaited World’s Championship. Karly Morgan was the last Mercer Springs entry to show on the week, as she took Kentucky Proud to the reserve championship. By Undulata’s Nutcracker, Kentucky Proud is out of a half sister to CH Jaunty Janette. Karly and Kentucky Proud were champions earlier this year at Bonnie Blue. Designed For Blue and Ellie Kangur were a good third for Tom and Mickey Kangur and High Caliber Stables. Courtney McGinnis finished fourth with CH HS Dignitary for Fish Creek Stables and DeLovely.

The great CH Castledream primped and preened over the Red Mile to win this championship for the second time. He and Larry Hodge were also the winners here in 2009 for Hillcroft Farm. They would go on to win the Fine Harness World’s Grand Championship that year. One of three offspring of A Daydream Believer (BHF), Castledream can still be described as one of a kind. Now 10 years old, he seems fully settled into his job, putting on two grand shows here in Lexington. Gothic Revival and Martin Teater gave them a strong run in finishing as reserve champions for Tri-Color Saddlebreds, their second reserve tricolor here in as many years. By Revival and out of Allusion, from CH Foxfire’s Prophet’s first crop, Gothic Revival is everything you would expect from a such a strong harness pedigree.

It has now been nine in a row for CH His Supreme Reflection and Jacque Manzo. The phenomenally up-headed and bright chestnut gelding is at the absolute apex of his game in the run up to Louisville. Unanimously the Amateur Three-Gaited Champion tonight for owner Kimberly Jones, he is trained by Nelson Green at Blue Willow Farm. By Supreme Heir and out of Beat The Odds, by Attaché, His Supreme Reflection glistened and gleamed, sparkled and starred on the Red Mile this week. Reserve twice this week, Watermark’s A Kiss For Luck and Dr. Merrell Magelli acquitted themselves well under the Monnington banner. The five-year-old daughter of Callaway’s Norhtern Kiss is out of a Catalyst mare. She has found a great fit in both partner and division with Merrell in amateur walk-trot.

Joel Brown was the solo driver in the Hackney Pony Championship, showing Park Lane to the tri-color for Mary McFarren. Park Lane is by Merrywill’s Gemini and out of Miracle Of Love, by Matchless Diamond.

The most excited winner of the night had to have been Amanda Murchison aboard Stocco, winner of the Adult Show Pleasure Championship. The other night when she was fourth, she was on the phone with her husband Jerry, who exclaimed, “I saw you on the live feed! You were awesome!” Tonight, Jerry was there in person, standing silently and staring down the track awaiting the award presentations. He stood in a moment of shock when Amanda’s number was called, as did Amanda, waiting for her horse’s name to be called, just to be sure she had heard it right! She needn’t have waited so long, as she made a spectacular show with the ears-up chestnut gelding. Show Pleasure Champions at Greater Boston and reserve champions at UPHA 14 Spring Premiere, Stocco and Amanda were thrilled to wear this Junior League tricolor for their beloved Cater Stables team. Bi-Mi’s Unforgettable Spirit and Shawn Stachowski were the reserve champions. Previously the partner of daughter Ava Stachowski, that team had won the Junior Exhibitor Show Pleasure Championship at Kentucky Spring Premier. Mom took over here for a reserve win. Elizabeth Ververeli took a first show ring ride aboard her mom’s Go For Glory to finish third for Kathleen Ververeli. This was Evie’s third ride ever aboard the big, dark chestnut gelding. They are directed by Kierson Farm. Santa Ana Wind and Stacey Halloran finished fourth for Gaited Inc. and Matt Shiflet Stables.

A moment of silence was held next for the Three-Gaited Championship and the Harness Pony Championship, as they were both scratched late, causing the Three-Gaited Park Stake entries to scramble to get ready a little ahead of schedule. They were given their due allotment of warm-up, with five answering the call. Finest Material and Ronnie Graham finished their sweep of the division this week, winning the tricolor for James and Helen Rosburg. The reigning Show Pleasure Driving World’s Champion of Champions was spectacular on the Red Mile. By Star Material, Finest Material is out of Captivating Style, by CH Captive Spirit. Captivating Style is a half sister to CH Tchaikovsky, as she is out of the grand little mare, CH Heir Style. Erica Salley got a nice ovation from the crowd as the reserve champion with Just Like That. They made one of their best shows together, earning the acclaim of the Junior League faithful for Antares Farm and Stable and trainer Stephanie Sedlacko. By Supreme Heir, this chestnut mare is out of Rare Southern Grace.

Charlie Jones is such an enthusiast for the Standardbred, that he wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to show a great one, no matter how much mud she flung in his face. He drove Belle Starr to win the Roadster to Bike Championship under the direction of Kerry Holahan. The reigning Roadster to Bike Mares World’s Champion looks to be tuned to a tee once again, as she prepares to make another run at the green shavings.

And just like that, the Reverend Gene Wright was striking up the tune to “My Old Kentucky Home,” and the crowd looked at the bright sun still hanging high in the sky, then at their watches (or in this day and age, their cell phones) and then at each other. Never in the memorable history of this horse show has it ended this early on Saturday night. But there they were, Melissa Moore and Clark Clouse, stomping out a beat as they came down the track and through the gate to vie for this first jewel of the Saddlebred Triple Crown. Stunned silence led to enthusiasm, as the crowd got a great show from the two longtime peers and Versailles residents. They even racked into the lineup side by side to the delight of all.

After conformation judging in this, the only class of the week that was stripped, it was It’s Double O’ Deuce and Melissa Moore getting to make one last pass for SGF Winning Ways Farm and Sherry Frankel. Melissa has put together a fantastic campaign with this big, brash chestnut stallion, winning twice at River Ridge, earning two reserves at Midwest, and now picking up two more wins at Lexington. Clark Clouse put together a strong show with Indianapolis Charity Five-Gaited Champion Callaway’s Outta Here. He earned the reserve tricolor for Harold Denton Jr. By Callaway’s Blue Norther, Outta Here is outta Callaway’s Hummingbird, a full sister to Broodmare Hall of Famer Callaway’s Carousel.

All of a sudden, the rabble rousers were released upon the Lexington night, with plenty of merry to make and fun to have. Many of the barns were already packed up and torn down, having scratched all of their entries for the night. And then the curtain had fallen on the 76th Lexington Junior League Horse Show. It will go down as one of “those years,” when the weather didn’t quite cooperate, even though the record heat wave broke just in time, even though the rain stopped just short of pouring on an evening session. The Friday morning riders will never forget their performances, that is to be certain: a waterlogged National Championship for Kristin Smith, soaked to the core Red Mile tricolors for Taylor Newton and Maison Boyle. Because no matter the year, no matter the weather, no matter your position at the show as trainer, exhibitor, owner, spectator, official, or horse, the one descriptive that can never be taken away from this most singular of events… is Memorable.

Or maybe that is better described as the takeaway. That’s what you will always leave with, those memories. And one day, hopefully far in the future, that is all that will remain for us, the lovers of Lexington. And we will sit back and reflect on a piece of our history. Because this second week of July is always one that we will never forget.

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