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Lexington Weathers The Storm

by Bob Funkhouser and Leeann Mione
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Some six months ago many throughout the industry were preaching doom and gloom for Lexington Junior League as we knew it. The famed Red Mile was purchased by a group of Standardbred owners last year and under new management, millions of dollars of renovations were made to the grounds and the Tattersalls sales facility. Officials of the Lexington Junior League Show did not know exactly where they stood but felt there would be several changes for this year’s show, some of which would not be popular with the show horse exhibitors.

There was also much talk that after this year the show would move even though it would have one year remaining on its contract. Some 30 days before the show, manager Jim LaHood finalized plans with the new facilities manager and in a dramatic urnaround, most everything was back on as scheduled. In the words of LaHood, “We look forward to being here [the Red Mile] for many years to come.”

What exhibitors did find when they arrived July 9-14 for the 65th Annual Lexington Junior League Horse Show was a clean and improved Red Mile. Traffic flow was different (a plus). The infield tents were moved closer to the show ring, making those exhibitors feel much more a part of the show (a plus). Some of the permanent barns had been worked on (a plus). And the ring was in the best shape it has ever been in (a plus, plus).

“I was extremely pleased with the footing and the overall appearance of the grounds,” said LaHood. “The biggest improvement was taking the crown out of the track. It was in the best shape ever. We were able to do a better job with the infield box seats and moving the infield tents closer just tied everything together. It made everyone feel a part of the horse show.

“I was also pleased that I won my bet with Randy Harper. This was three out of the last five years I’ve won because there was no rain during the show. Obviously the weather was outstanding and that helped everyone.”

It was a great week to showcase American Saddlebred, Hackney and roadster entries from across the country. According to LaHood the show was up one horse from last year although numbers were certainly stacked in different classes this year. After being almost scarce at many shows throughout the season, ponies showed up with better than average numbers. Many of the long-tail and cob-tail classes featured seven or better and a Hackney Pleasure Driving Pony class had 18.

Saddle Horse numbers were varied throughout the week. There were 28 entries in the Junior Exhibitor Show Pleasure Championship then you had two in the Amateur Gentlemen’s Harness class, one in the 10-Year-Old Equitation class and none in the 17-year-old event. Some of the young horse classes were huge and then there were only seven in the Amateur Three-Gaited Championship and eight in the Open Park Horse Championship.

“It’s the thing that drives show managers crazy,” replied LaHood. “The divisions go in cycles and you never know how many are going to show up, regardless of what has been entered.”

Competition wise, it was a great week for young trainers, young exhibitors, and young, up and coming horses and ponies. A couple of veteran entries (horses, ponies, and riders) suffered defeats for the first time in a long time, while a few of the established stars held on for yet another title. The industry as a whole is seeing a changing of the guard. How strange it was not to see a Tom or Donna Moore, a Don Harris, or a Redd Crabtree in one or all of the open championships.

Now among the veteran trainers, Nelson Green was back and he won the Fine Harness Championship for the third time in four years with the multi-titled World’s Grand Champion CH Radiant Success (Radiant Sultan x La La Success). Actually, Green had a tremendous week with his entries winning six major grand championships and two reserve grand championships along with several blue ribbons. CH Winter Day and Jackie Stred were in that group winning the Amateur Three-Gaited Championship. It was Winter Day’s fifth Lexington grand championship (amateur and open) in as many years.

Although she is among the younger trainers, Dena Lopez is a veteran of many championship battles. She returned to the Red Mile with the reigning Five-Gaited World’s Grand Champion CH Wild Eyed and Wicked to capture their second consecutive Lexington Five-Gaited Grand Championship.

Saturday night’s finale sent everyone home on a positive note with three horses making a serious run at the roses. In addition to Wild Eyed and Wicked, the crowd got behind 20-year-old Matt Shiflet who had won the mare stake with Glider’s Star. This combination had lots of support with the third generation horseman feeling both the greatest excitement and the most pressure of his young career.

“It was something I’ll never forget,” said the son of Harrison Shiflet and grandson of Claude Shiflet. “I heard the crowd cheering for us as we came in, but then the next thing you know, Dena [Lopez] goes blowing by me so I tuned all of that out and stayed with my mare.”

Merrill Murray and SS Genuine were also in the hunt. After their performance at the American Royal last year, horsemen were looking for this team to come on strong in 2001. In the new Five-Gaited Stallion/Gelding Stake, they pushed the defending grand champion and came back Saturday night looking to do the same.

As Shiflet said, Lopez and Wild Eyed and Wicked came in the ring blowing by people and they never slowed up. It would be a unanimous decision among judges Dick Boettcher, Steve Crabtree, and Bill Waller for the defending grand champion and owners New Millennium Equine Endeavor.

“He felt good when he came in,” said trainer/rider Dena Lopez. “I knew he was on tonight and he was a lot of fun to ride.”

The question in the Three-Gaited Championship was would both of Elisabeth Goth’s entries show back? Hollywood Excellence had won the under 2 stake and Yes It’s True the over 15.2 section. Larry Hodge and Yes It’s True came through the gate as the single Goth entry for the evening and with a crowd-pleasing ride defeated last year’s grand champions Page Me and Jerry Hutson, as well as several other contenders. As Hodge prepared to make his victory pass, announcer Peter Doubleday informed the large crowd that Yes It’s True was making the victory pass under the new ownership of Sam and Anne Stafford of Blythewood Farm. The Staffords stand and own CF First Night Out, the sire of Yes It’s True and several Lexington stars.

Hutson and his wife Melissa Moore were among the young trainers that did very well. In addition to Page Me, they sent the fine harness stallion Revival down victory lane in front of photographer Howie Schatzberg twice with William Shatner. They were probably two of the best performances of Revival’s winning career. Melissa also won the Roadster To Bike Championship with The Secret’s Out for the second consecutive year.

From Oklahoma, Liz Cortwright got to enjoy the Lexington experience twice as she rode Reedann’s Phancy Phootwork to the Junior Three-Gaited Championship and over 15.2 blue. The young horsewoman and her junior horse were put together by Peggy Richardson. Steve Wheeler sure entertained the crowd with Park Horse Grand Champion 98 Degrees. Working under Nelson Green, he’s another of the new generation.

Although a veteran of many victory passes, Anna Johnson, a member of the younger generation and an amateur, drove her explosive I’ve Arrived to the Road Pony Championship with Chris Gantley as her trainer. Amateur owner Tara Duff won the Three-Year-Old Three-Gaited Stake aboard the John Conatser-trained In My Heart. Again, not your everyday sights at Lexington Junior League.

And how about the ponies trained and shown by Rich and Beth Campbell. The Heartland Hackney entries continued to dominate and go home with new owners. Also making a name for himself, Tom Lowry has kept his nose to the grindstone. Besides the Golden Creek Farm pony champions, he teamed Josh Greer and Buckwheat to the UPHA Road Pony Classic title.

Adding to the changing of the guard, a five-year-old horse and pony enjoyed Lexington stardom among the very best of competition. Sold Out Show was presented by Lisa Strickland to capture the Ladies Three-Gaited Championship over a host of long-time winners. The same was true with Impress My Daddy and Gib Marcucci in the Harness Pony Championship.

In just her second year out of the junior exhibitor ranks, Kate Salmonsen won the Amateur Five-Gaited Championship with CH Doubletrees Steel The Show. From the equitation ranks two young ladies wore tricolors that represented the greatest wins of their careers thus far. While neither one was a stranger to the winner’s circle, the Junior Saddle Seat Equitation Grand Championship for Royal Scot’s Ashley Alden and the Senior Saddle Seat Equitation Grand Championship for Premier’s Dakota Willimon sent them to a different level.

Not letting the youngsters steel all the glory, Sallie Wheeler and John Shea did their parts to preserve the “old guard.” Shea had been showing Fancy Ribbons all season long for the Wheeler family, but basically couldn’t find any competition. The Lexington crowd got to see the Hall of Fame pony man and his talented cob-tail at their best. Mrs. Wheeler returned to Lexington, not just as a proud owner, but as an exhibitor. Teamed with last year’s Adult Three-Gaited Pleasure Grand Champion, Boutonniere (Merchant Prince x CH Button Bright), Mrs. Wheeler made the victory pass in the Ladies Fine Harness class.

In many ways Lexington 2001 was a huge success. It was great that rain, heat and thrown shoes were not the main topics of conversation. Instead, the focus was on the many show ring triumphs, not just those resulting in tricolors. For many, just making a workout or receiving a ribbon was just reward. Those exhibitors went home with a sense of accomplishment rivaling those who had enjoyed Lexington’s winner’s circle.

Lexington was not all about the show ring. Ed Frickey again organized the annual golf tournament on the Sunday leading into the show. Many trainers and exhibitors enjoyed a beautiful Lexington day to help raise money for Just Say Whoa. Also growing in popularity is the Just Say Whoa Clubhouse. Nightly activities were held on the second floor of the grandstand giving the youngest generation a safe and healthy environment in which to socialize.

Of course for those who have to have horses day and night there was the TSE Tattersalls Summer Sale, the American Saddlebred Horse Museum, the Kentucky Horse Park, and numerous local training and sales establishments who were more than happy to roll out the red carpet for visitors.

It was a red carpet week for LaHood and his staff, one of those times when it all came together.

“I can’t say enough about the Junior League ladies and my staff,” stated LaHood. “They worked their tails off to have this show ready for exhibitors. Lenard Davenport, Kent Moeller, Scott and Beth Snider, they all did a tremendous job to make this an enjoyable week.”

For the complete show story see the printed edition of Saddle Horse Report dated July 23, 2001.

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