Skip to content

Louisville - Stake Night



by David "Tuffy" Owens

One of the first things one learns when studying proper formal writing technique is to write in the third person, “He, She, It, They, Oneself, etc.” Well I can’t do justice to what we all saw on Saturday night without writing it like I’m having a conversation with you, the reader. This is now the fifth straight Stake Night that it has been my honor to recount the Freedom Hall festivities for the Saddle Horse Report, and every time I’ve retold these events, I have led off with the Five-Gaited World’s Grand Championship. It is the ultimate test of the American Saddlebred, the one that ends this storied week upon the green shavings and vaults a name into immortality among the greats in the ring of honor encircling the lower bowl of Freedom Hall. This year’s gaited stake was an absolute scorcher, one that will not soon be forgotten, as it was wide open all the way to the final lineup. But there was one class that transcended all others, one that had the center ring staff thrilled and excited right along with the crowd. It brought the knowing multitudes at the horse show to their feet and sent them into full voice. People watching online at home had to have been screaming their fool heads off right along with us all. There have been few duels like it in the annals of show horse history. It will be told and retold like tales of Imperator and Sky Watch. “I was there when…” The place of honor this year goes to the $3,500 Amateur Five-Gaited Championship.

If you were to tell someone this story at the beginning of the week, they might have looked at you funny, not fully believing that it would come to pass, but with that little feeling in the back of their mind that they wanted it to be so. Gabe Deknatel and Dr. Owen Weaver have followed very different paths to this Saturday night. They both showed at Bonnie Blue, but Gabe showed Amateur, while Owen made her debut to win the Open Stake. Gabe’s next act with CH The Daily Lottery was a smashing show at Midwest, where they swept to an amateur tricolor and were named Best In Show. Owen and CH Courageous Lord had their ups and downs, culminating on a high note with an amateur championship at Blue Ridge. Two weeks prior to Louisville, the Courageous Lord team wasn’t sure they were ready for the bright lights just yet, thinking perhaps they would pass this time around. Well, you only live once. They took their shot at it in the Amateur Five-Gaited Stallion/Gelding qualifier. The matriarch of Fox Grape Farms, Lynn Via, upon seeing Owen catch that sometimes elusive second-way canter, yelled, “Ten gaits! That’s all we wanted!” They settled for a giant ovation on the way to the lineup and a Reserve World’s Championship that night.

Meanwhile in The Daily Lottery’s camp, Gabe smashed to yet another Amateur Gentlemen’s Five-Gaited World’s Championship, his third in a row. Oddly enough, one of Gabe’s first two shows aboard Daily Lottery came as the champion of that aforementioned Open Five-Gaited Stake at Bonnie Blue. That one was in 2010. They came into the ring tonight having shown 24 times and won 24 blue ribbons, including this very same class two years in a row.

Tonight, these two went head for the first time since the 2009 Five-Gaited National Championship, a class The Daily Lottery and John Conatser emerged from as the National Champions and the last time Merrill Murray was ever beaten aboard Courageous Lord. Never before had they squared off with amateur riders aboard. The term “amateur” seems somehow unfitting when describing the likes of Gabe Deknatel and Owen Weaver. These two need a better descriptive, perhaps “Elite Amateurs” is more fitting for what they can do on a horse. Suffice it to say, they put on a show that shook the rafters. When they lined up for the first time, the Carriage Lane and Autumn Hills teams came to the ring to strip the saddles, with each leading farther and farther toward the in gate end, jockeying for that last position, where the crowd can gauge how loud the one horse’s supporters cheered and perhaps one-up them. It was a light-hearted moment in a supremely intense situation.

Well, by the time the class was racking second way, the judges were already asking their ringmasters for a two-horse workout. It was inevitable. It was necessary. It was a shot in the arm for an entire industry. Rick Wallen, Melinda Moore, and Gene van der Walt submitted two numbers to head back to the rail for additional work. Peter Fenton called for a two-horse workout, and Gabe and Owen revved up their engines. It turns out they had each been told by different friends and supporters all around the ring that there was going to be additional work, most likely between the two of them, and they were ready. It is that kind of confidence that makes them who they are, that makes them champions. Fenton quipped, “I haven’t announced the numbers yet,” as both teams rocketed down the rail at a big first-way trot. That sent the crowd over the edge. They went wild. And they didn’t stop. For eight gaits, they never stopped screaming. There is a YouTube video shot from the upper deck of the entire workout. We can link it in the online version, but if you are reading this in print, just go to YouTube.com and search Courageous Lord vs. The Daily Lottery. When it’s cold this winter and you can’t wait for horse show season to come again, click on that link.

While the speculation this year had been whether Gabe would show back in the Open Stake and take a shot at the biggest prize of them all, he still got a Saturday night workout at the hands of the three-time defending World’s Grand Champion. His hat flew off almost immediately in the workout, revealing the samurai knot keeping his long hair in place. Neither horse backed an ear the entire way, a testament to how much they love what they do. They both kept building and building throughout the additional work, as the crowd carried them to greater and greater heights. When they had skidded into the final lineup, the masses saluted them with a thunderous ovation, acknowledged by both of the exhausted yet first class until the very end competitors.

The crowd was buzzing. That’s the only way to describe that moment after something truly incredible has happened in the show ring. You can just feel the excitement as people just cannot contain their emotions. Bret Day walked by on the rail, fresh off his second World’s Grand Championship, and said, “This place hasn’t rocked like this for an amateur gaited stake since Enlightening and New York, New York.” That was 1985 when Bit Hutcheson on Enlightening and Michele Macfarlane on New York, New York duked it out with Bit emerging trimmed in tricolor that night.

The center ring staff even got into the act, with ringmaster Kent Moeller smiling from ear to ear as he watched from his post next to Gene van der Walt. Ringmaster Bill Whitley’s comment that it hadn’t been this loud in Freedom Hall in a long time was relayed by Peter Fenton. Everyone loves great show horses putting on a great horse show.

For the second time tonight, a two-time defending amateur champion was met with an absolutely transcendent performance. As Gabe himself put it, “Going up against the reigning three-time World's Grand Champion in a two horse workout? A true thrill and a great honor! Coming in Second? I never want to do anything but win on any horse, but if I could choose who to go down to it would be Owen and the great CL.” And so it was that Dr. Owen Weaver claimed this tricolor aboard the sensational CH Courageous Lord for Fox Grape Farms. It was the fourth year in a row for “Joe” to not wear the roses, as his floral “allergy” has been well documented. Tiffany Wheeler got to carry those from the ring tonight.

Owen knew when she warmed up tonight that she had a special horse ready to make a special performance. They warmed up in a different spot tonight, right along the back aisle of the North Wing stalls, keeping the giant ball of fire focused on the task at hand. He let Owen ride at him tonight, which could be seen clearly in the way she called on him every step of the way. “The wilder you get, the better he gets,” said Owen after the class. “He won’t back up. He’ll go until he drops.”

Lynn Via felt good when additional work was called for, as she put it, “I thought we may have a little edge going into the workout, because he’s done this before!” Truth! This would be the third straight Saturday night workout for the great Courageous Lord, as there was no workout called for in the 2009 gaited stake.

Owen on the other hand had to keep all of her emotions in check and remain focused on the task at hand. “I’ve got to hit my trot, and I’ve got to get going” were the words running through her head at the start of the second work. If you watch the above referenced video, you can even see laser focus in the way she reversed. Gabe took off across the middle on the reverse trot, but Owen hung back, knowing exactly what she needed to do to get in gear for the second way. She was spectacular as a jockey tonight. As Peter Fenton recounted to the crowd, “Merrill Murray told me an amateur can ride this horse, and I told him it better be a good one.” It certainly was.

With all that said, how about the job done by Steve and Tiffany Wheeler of Autumn Hills Farm. Put yourself in their shoes. You take the three-time Five-Gaited World’s Grand Champion home with you from Louisville last year with the task of making him ready for an amateur rider, albeit a top one. There’s no pressure there, right? Through the ups and the downs of putting a team like this together, they never wavered, and they absolutely got the job done. A phenomenal team, they now hold both the Amateur Ladies and Amateur Five-Gaited World’s Champion of Champions titles in their barn.

Gabe Deknatel and The Daily Lottery received a standing ovation for their effort. It was well-deserved, as both horse and rider went for all they were worth. They left every last ounce on the green shavings tonight for High Hickory Farm and Carriage Lane. Their undefeated streak may have come to an end tonight, but this is far from the last time we will hear from Gabe and “Dudley.” They will be back with a vengeance to be certain. We can only hope these two great horses meet again with a similarly spectacular showcase.

Third in this spectacular class went to New York's Real Magic. Owned by Rudi Beneke, Real Magic was shown by fellow South African and World Cup star, Hanlo Smith. He made a phenomenal ride to claim this prize. From South Africa to Germany, Martin Gueldner was fourth aboard Epic Hero, rounding out the top four of this truly World's Championship.

It was an all-Kentucky panel that got to mark the cards in the Five-Gaited World’s Grand Championship. Melinda Moore had the call, joined by sister Melissa and new American citizen Gene van der Walt. Steve Buttleman sounds the call for both of Kentucky’s greatest equine traditions, calling for the Kentucky Derby field on that first Saturday in May and the gaited stake field on the final Saturday of August every year. His call was answered by a group of 10, as they came romping down the chute one by one. Later we would learn that it was Bill Munford who had first established an order of go for the entries to come to the ring in the gaited stake. That was done for the first time in 1970 and has been used ever since.

This year’s order of go went like this: Charmed By Chance and Kris Knight for James Orr, Kalarama’s Ultimate Choice and Larry Hodge for Joan Hamilton, Wicked In A Winning Way and Tom Thorpe for Bonnie Kegley, Marc Of Charm and Lionel Ferreira for Riverdreams LLC, The Plaza and Andy Freseth for Amanda Dellinger, Bravo Blue and Rob Byers for B & T Vonderschmitt LLC, Fort Chiswell’s Royal Kiss and Elisabeth Goth, Callaway’s Annabel Allison and Debbie Foley, Voulez Vous and Brian Chappell for Nalley Champions LLC, and Iconium with Karin Lynn Folkers for Windy Hill Farm.

No matter the order, these 10 came ready to fire tonight, with the crowd getting behind first one then the other. Elisabeth Goth got a lot of cheers early on, as she made passes that stated her intentions from the get go. Debbie Foley and Annabel Allison always get love from the crowd, as do Bravo Blue and Rob Byers. Larry Hodge and Ultimate Choice have that wild way of going that gets the crowd pumping as well. After the amateur gaited stake a couple classes earlier, the Louisville fans were primed and ready, and they let their favorites hear from them.

The judges selected a field of five to return to the rail, led off by Kalarama’s Ultimate Choice (SA) and Larry Hodge. Marc Of Charm was the next to hear his number called, as Lionel Ferreira took off for his second gaited stake workout, having earned the Reserve World’s Grand Championship in 2005 with Carlswald Prince’s Dominoe. Bravo Blue and Rob Byers were next to return to the rail, followed by a big cheer for Elisabeth Goth and Fort Chiswell’s Royal Kiss. Already with Three-Gaited World’s Grand Championships on her resume with CH Hollywood Excellence, this was Elisabeth’s first time showing in the gaited stake. Callaway’s Annabel Allison and Debbie Foley were the fifth and final entrant into the workout. The second work is a blur of Saddlebred royalty, featuring THREE stallions. Tell me when that last happened! It seemed as if the crowd was equally divided, or maybe they were just cheering for everyone. All five made shows worthy of a top prize in one of the most evenly matched gaited stake workouts in recent memory.

When it was all over but the shouting, Rob Byers had no clue how the cards would fall, only that he and Bravo Blue had done all they could do to put themselves in position to win it. One of the grooms back at Premier Stables had a University of Kentucky shirt that was reapportioned for tonight’s class. It said, “I Believe in BLUE.” While UK reigns atop NCAA Men’s Basketball, Bravo Blue reigns supreme in the Saddlebred world. He strode proudly down to the winner’s circle with the great Rob Byers up for this his second Five-Gaited World’s Grand Championship. They were joined there by Rob’s wife Sarah, along with assistants Katy Hannah and Heather Digiannantonio. Perhaps most important among these was the man waving the towel over his head in celebration, Bravo Blue’s caretaker, Keith Overall, recipient of the Koller Farms Caretakers Trophy. He has been an integral part of the Premier family for nearly 20 years, taking care of some of the very best and brightest the Saddlebred world has ever seen.

In the traditional interview that followed, Rob Byers described Bravo Blue as a “smart horse” and “a little bit easier to get along with than Boucheron,” his previous winner of this biggest prize of all. Ironically enough, as Rob was walking away from the interview to remount, Pete Fenton asked him about retirement, to which Rob replied, “I’ll know in two weeks.” This of course begins the traditional post-Louisville vacation for Rob and Sarah, as they head to Cayman Brac for plenty of sun and fun and much-needed relaxation. Later on he would let the ReporTV cameras know that “If you saw those full stalls back at home, you’d know that retirement isn’t coming anytime soon!”

Ray Yoder got a mention as the breeder of Bravo Blue, by Northern Blues and out of Amp Leigh, by CH Ready Kilowatt. Follow along on his list of registered owners, and you will see Cecelia Hagan as his original recorded owner, followed by Wes and Sena Bowling. Virgil Helm Stables was up next, with Theresa Vonderschmitt making the selection from them. Now 10 years old, this bright chestnut gelding has fulfilled all of that promise that has made him a fan favorite.

There are few teams showing today that have the kind of special bond that Debbie Foley shares with Callaway’s Annabel Allison. As she lined the brilliant daughter of Caramac up for conformation judging, she had a look on her face that was of the purest kind of love, bordering on tearfully so. It was a special moment to be sure and one they followed up with a spectacular performance in the workout. They were crowned Reserve World’s Grand Champions for the second time together. Peter Fenton told us that Debbie’s first trip to this building came on a Saturday night. She came with her parents and sat in the last row of a capacity crowd. That night, the great My-My thrilled the masses with one of her six World’s Grand Championships, and Debbie knew then that she would show in this class. And show she has. Perhaps it is the influence of the grand My-My, the winningest mare of all time in this class, that has led Debbie to bring primarily mares into this gaited stake as her partners of choice. Undulata’s Georgie Girl and Callaway’s Karla preceded Annabel Allison in the last decade, but this has been the most successful pairing to date.

Earning a first-place vote for the second straight year, Kalarama’s Ultimate Choice (SA) received the yellow ribbon in third for Larry Hodge. Melissa Moore gave the nod to this entry of Joan Hamilton. With his wild athletic ability, he has the great South African stallion, Mr. U.S.A. on both his top and bottom lines. He is by Redwoods The Generals Choice (SA) and out of Greyfour Captivation (SA). Marc Of Charm and Lionel Ferreira acquitted themselves well in fourth for Riverdreams LLC. The team from Monnington Farm showed well in their first workout together. Their show in the Five-Gaited Stallion Stake on Monday was one of the best of the week, as they captured that World’s Championship. Elisabeth Goth held strong for the amateur riders, making a strong case in fifth aboard Fort Chiswell’s Royal Kiss, directed by Visser Stables. Gene van der Walt marked her number down for second on his card. Charmed By Chance and Kris Knight finished in sixth followed by Voulez Vous and Brian Chappell and The Plaza and Andy Freseth.

Pete Fenton opened the show tonight with a fun new introduction of each of the center ring officials, giving little facts about each of them such as how long they have been at the World’s Championship Horse Show or little superstitions. He ended that program with a presentation to Doug Shiflet, who celebrated his 30th year capturing images of this show from center ring. Scarlett Mattson made the presentation, as Howie Schatzberg captured that moment. No word yet on if Howie will make Doug pay for the photo. Dr. Christine Sannes came to the ring next with her parade horse, Clear The Sky, fully decked out head to toe in red, white and blue. This patriotic display set the tone for the National Anthem and the first call to the ring of the night.

The lady riders have kicked off Saturday night for many years, with the Ladies Three-Gaited Championship featured first on the program tonight. Mary Gaylord McClean, who qualified Mr. Center Stage to the Ladies Under 2 blue earlier this week, called upon Sarah Byers to fill in as the jockey tonight. Sarah headed home to Premier Stables and pieced together the outfit she hadn’t worn since this same Saturday night a year ago. In fact, this was the first time Sarah had shown since winning this tricolor in 2011! Luckily there are few more ready to go than Sarah, and she climbed aboard to defend her title with the unanimous support of the judges. This class is special to Sarah, one she always enjoys competing in, just as she did in 2000, when she won it all aboard CH My Front Page Lady. Alex Wille-Irmiter has gotten the call to ride some wonderful horses this year. She earned her best Louisville prize to date, taking the reserve title back to Pleasantview aboard I Spy A Firefly. Owned by the Candied Partners, Firefly is by The Mystery Writer and out of a Periaptor mare. Also Reserve Champions at Lexington, this team won the ladies walk-trot stake at Rock Creek. Alex is no stranger to World Championship competition, as we are coming up on the 10-year anniversary of her Junior Exhibitor English Pleasure 14-17 World Championship at the Morgan Grand National with Cabot French Pepper. Lauren Burin had a great go in third aboard Callaway’s No Reservations to take third for Dr. James and Bev Beebe.

CH Calvin Hobbs has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in 2012. Never out of the top prizes in any venue, he has been just that touch better this season, giving him the edge he needed to return to the very top of the division. He wore a garland of flowers here in Freedom Hall for the first time since 2008, repeating his 2005 Road Pony World’s Grand Championship. While 2005 saw Andy Freseth drive to the roses, it was Lynda Freseth this time, though she did wear Andy’s silks! Calvin Hobbs debuted here in 2003 with Chris Gantley, winning twice as a junior pony. Since then, he has shown here every single year, leaving the ring with anything less than a world’s or reserve world’s title just twice. That means that he has now shown 20 times in Freedom Hall and finished out of the top two twice. Ever. Lynda Freseth earned her second World’s Grand Championship of her career, both in the pony ranks! One of the most exciting ponies to grace the ring in recent memory, CH Stat was the Reserve World’s Grand Champion with a valiant effort for Maureen Campbell and owner Dr. Chip Pugh. This was the third time in the last four years for this remarkable son of Dun-Haven Regal Attraction to earn this prestigious title for the Majestic Oaks team. He has all the stuff to take the tricolor of choice, coming up just shy this time around. Moment Of Excellence and Larry Ella were third in this class for the third time in the last four years for Bent Tree Farm, with Regal’s Wild Card LF and Abel Vega fourth for Golden Creek Farms.

Scarlett Mattson was then honored with induction into the World’s Championship Horse Show Hall of Fame. Few have had a deeper and more longstanding involvement with this horse show than Scarlett. The full message of her induction ceremony can be found elsewhere in this edition, but suffice it to say, this is a well-deserved honor for someone who joined the staff of officials here in 1979 as Entry Secretary. She worked closely with her great friend and mentor, Bill Munford, holding her Entry Secretary position for 13 years. When Mr. Munford retired in 2001, Scarlett, who had been the assistant manager since 1991, took over the reins. This grand tradition we all love has been guided by this grand lady for the past decade.

The Ladies Five-Gaited Championship was a tale of two directions, with two bay horses, the gelding and mare qualifier winners, putting on spectacular performances. Ava Gardner came in smoking hot for Tammy DeVore and owner Carol Hillenbrand. This would be the final performance of perhaps the best Louisville of Tammy’s career, and she had that look in her eye that she wanted to end it florally. But it was another bold, blonde jockey that really cranked it up second way. Kim Cowart put My Wonder to work in all his regal style on the reverse and brought Freedom Hall to life. It was a stunning performance, one that earned the entry of Sharyn Lackey a unanimous World’s Championship. My Wonder is by My Only Son, a Worthy Son/Longview’s Supreme cross. He is out of Callaway’s Kit & Caboodle, also the dam of another World’s Champion this year, CH Callaway’s Kit Carson. Those who saw Kim debut this five-year-old in the novice class at Raleigh knew that when she really got together with him, there would be very few that could beat them. That proved to be the case tonight. Ladies mare winners Tammy DeVore and Ava Gardner were the Reserve World’s Champion of Champions. By CF First Night Out and out of Harlem’s So Rare, Ava Gardner has won her qualifier here four years in a row. The first three, she was the Amateur Five-Gaited Mare World’s Champion. Another tremendous product of the Fox Grape breeding program, CH Fox Grape’s Dauntless made a valiant title defense to place third with Dr. Owen Weaver for Fox Grape Farms. Vitruvian Man and a delighted Megan Thibo earned the white ribbon for fourth for Fritz Zimmerman.

The Amateur Three-Gaited World’s Championship was the best one we’ve seen since… well… two years ago. If you are a believer in history repeating itself, then you will love the way this story unfolds. Truly it is remarkable the way this played out. We begin on a Saturday night two years ago, when Tara Grom and Barbara Goodman Manilow squared off in this class for the first time. In 2008 and 2009, Barbara Manilow had stomped to this top prize with the great CH Marching Orders, a celebrity Saddlebred, one of the very best to ever grace these green shavings. In steps Tara Grom, showing CH With Style And Grace in this class for the very first time. What followed was one of the best walk-trot duels ever seen, delighting the Freedom Hall faithful and sending both horses back to the rail for a two-horse workout. Tara was famously the winner of that one, with a chestnut daughter of Sir William Robert that just refused to quit. She would return the following year to defend her title, wearing the garland of flowers once again in 2011. All that brings us to Saturday night. Check out these parallels: Two-time defending champion, same two riders, challenger showing in this class for the very first time, a phenomenal duel, and a transcendent performance by the eventual winner. This time, Barbara Manilow was the challenger, riding Call Me Regal to a simply perfect performance. He was every bit of a World’s Champion tonight, making an even better show than he did as the over 2 winner. He never backed an ear, he marched down the rail, he was at his absolute best, perhaps the best he has ever been. Donna and Kenny Smith and assistant Tom D. Pettry all made the run to the far end to greet the unanimous winner.

Reserve World’s Champion of Champions, CH With Style And Grace has nothing to hang her head about in this one, not that she ever has hung her head in her life. This mare could have shown back a couple classes later in the walk-trot stake and still have made a whale of a horse show. She was met with a phenomenal challenge tonight and came up just shy of her third straight title in this one. Tara Grom should be proud of another fantastic ride for Bob and Kim Grom and the DeLovely team. The gentlemen followed in the order of placing, with Jeffrey Schab guiding the park-trotting machine, CH Sue-She to third for Black Horse Manor. This wildly popular team earned the reserve title in this one a year ago. They are twice now the Amateur Gentlemen’s World’s Champions. Tammy DeVore has a great mascot for DeVore Stables in the dynamic young man, Dylan Hines. By far the biggest supporter of all things DeVore Stables, Dylan helps put horses in the ring, cheers wildly for every horse or pony, no matter the prize, and lives life to its fullest. Reserve World’s Champion in the Amateur Gentlemen’s qualifier, he was fourth tonight, a grand prize in this wonderfully deep competition, making one of his best rides yet aboard Odyssey Mann.

How is this for a lineup on paper? The reigning World’s Grand Champion squares off against the reigning Reserve World’s Grand Champion (a former World’s Grand Champion), last year’s Junior World’s Champion of Champions, last year’s Amateur World’s Champion of Champions, and a former Reserve World’s Grand Champion. I don’t care what division it is, you have my attention. That was what the Fine Harness World’s Grand Championship held for us this year. With a new field of challengers to battle, what does one as the reigning champion? Get even better! That’s what the wild-moving bay gelding, Wild Carrissima, did tonight. He and Bret Day have now had a full year to work together, developing their relationship to the point that the brilliant son of Rare Perception is going an even bigger trot this time around. He has a freedom of movement in his shoulder that is atypical for such a big-bodied horse. He kept getting better as the class went on, claiming a unanimous World’s Grand Championship for Dr. Chip Pugh, who had a tremendous week at Louisville.

Lynda Freseth always looks serene in the harness cart, driving hard without showing any of that effort on her face. She traded in her road pony silks for elegant evening wear, matching the extravagantly elegant Our Brilliant Belle. The Junior World’s Champion of Champions a year ago, Brilliant Belle has been wonderful all season long for Mary and Priscilla Gise and Hollow Haven. She is by Joe Fabulous and out of Finally In Tune, by Finally Attached. She adds a Reserve World’s Grand Championship to her list of accolades. This was Lynda Freseth’s third time to earn this title, having done the same in 2001 and 2003 with another mare, the great CH Kalarama’s New Sensation. The Arabian trainer influence could be felt in this class, as it was Tim Shea who owned Brilliant Belle when she was showing with Jim Taylor, while Jim Stachowski brought out both Wild Carrissiman and The DaVinci Code!

The 2009 World’s Grand Champion CH Castledream was third tonight with Larry Hodge driving for Hillcroft Farm. The Lexington champion never drops an ear. You would be hard pressed to find a picture of him without both ears straight forward, a seeming characteristic of every horse out of the great A Daydream Believer (BHF). Kenny Wheeler made a big show on the big stage to place fourth at the lines of Caraway’s New York Minute for Mercer Springs Farm. The grand chestnut mare who has been through it all and come back to the top finished up fifth, as The DaVinci Code and Kathy Capsuto Walker earned that honor. They were Fine Harness Mare winners earlier in the week.

Larry Ella and Bent Tree Farm have won the Harness Pony World’s Grand Championship four of the last eight years, but this was the first time they have had the same pony win it in back-to-back campaigns. In 2005, it was Par Excellence wearing the roses, followed by Sweetheart Of Success in 2006. The one common thread that ties these two to the now two-time World’s Grand Champion Giselle is their sire, the great Mark Of Excellence. Giselle is a different mare this year, relaxing into her job, waving her legs in an elegant, ladylike way. She has harnessed the wild fire of a year ago and put it into a different, equally successful performance. Third in this class a year ago, Heartland Pursuit put on a strong challenge as the Reserve World’s Grand Champion. Ronnie Graham did the honors once again tonight for Helen Rosburg. By Heartland Code Of Honor and out of Heartland Country Song, by Sky King, Pursuit is most definitely an up-and-coming star of this division. Reserve World’s Grand Champion in 2009 and 2010, The Remington put on another bold performance with Juliet McDonald, finishing third for T.J. and Juliet McDonald and Majestic Oaks.

The Three-Gaited World’s Grand Championship saw another unanimous bay winner in Platinum Moon. The six-year-old bay gelding matched his mesmerizing performance from Lexington with maybe even a better one. The roses and tricolor went back to Kalarama for owner Joan Hamilton. By Periaptor, Platinum Moon is out of Harlem’s Moondance, the dam of CH Gone Platinum. It was an absolutely spectacular performance, and well needed among the leagues of challengers for this crown. The real story in this one, however, is that of young Daniel Lockhart. Peter Fenton let the crowd know that Danny is the first British citizen to win the walk-trot stake. He also falls just shy of being the youngest to ever win it, having just celebrated his 27th birthday. This was also Danny’s first time showing on Stake Night here on the green shavings, and he made it look like he had been there all his life. In reality, Danny lists his original hometown as Whitstable, a seaside town in Southeast England near Canterbury. Not that it matters to this narrative, but Whitstable is famous for its oysters if you are ever in the area. An attendee of Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, the young Mr. Lockhart’s sister, Kelly, had to watch his win on the television back at the A.J. Bruwer Stables stalls, where she is employed. She was cheering and crying tears of joy for her brother as he made his round of honor. Doug Shiflet has been shooting this horse show longer than Danny has been alive. He gave the pro tip to “ride with your knees on those flowers,” as Danny began his round of honor. He set off a parade of young trainers in this one, as four of the top five entries were ridden by members of the UPHA Young Professionals ranks.

It was another tremendous story and performance in reserve in this one. Scott Hagan leapt from his seat and screamed for his horse as Tre Lee hit the ring with HS Daydream’s Heads Up. The astonishing youngster lit up Freedom Hall from the moment he touched the green shavings, just as he had in winning the ASR National Three-Year-Old Three-Gaited Futurity this week. By Undulata’s Nutcracker and out of the incomparable A Daydream Believer, Heads Up was attempting to follow in the footsteps of 1966 World’s Grand Champion Forest Song and 2002 World’s Grand Champion An Heir About Her, both winners here as  three-year-olds. With a spectacular showing, he followed the exact same path as another wunderkind, Glenview’s Excelalante, right down to the Futurity win, Reserve World’s Grand Championship honor, and a tremendous shout from the crowd. In fact, they both received standing ovations in their respective times, responding in a huge way with tremendous passes out the gate. Matt Shiflet and Hi On Heir were third tonight for Don and Phyllis Brookshire, followed by Kim Cowart and Real Action in fourth for Robin McKenzie Vuillermet and Cheri McKenzie. Robert Gardiner capped off the group of young horsemen in fifth with his own VHF Belle Epoque.

We take you back now to the turn of the millennium. It was then that the buzz over “Y2K” was all anyone could talk about. Well apparently DeLovely was Y2K compliant, because since the calendar rolled over to 2000, Raymond Shively has won every single Roadster to Bike World’ Grand Championship. Let’s take a zip down memory lane, beginning in 2000 with When & Where. He was followed in 2001 by Power Ranger, then a back-to-back by Invincible Summer. Power Ranger wore the roses once more in 2004, before things really got serious with a five-time World’s Grand Champion, one of the greatest road horses of all time, Big Red. He took us from 2005-2009, when his full brother, Emerson, took over after Big Red’s sudden passing. It is now three in a row for Emerson, as he wore the roses once more for DeLovely. Want a recap of the last two winners not named Raymond Shively? George Knight won it in 1999 with Braveheart, while 1998 saw Tom Moore take the roses with Road Runner. Youth was served in reserve, as Colby Herron stormed to his greatest Louisville moment to date, earning the Reserve World’s Grand Championship with Alcazar. Showing together since 2006, this was their second foray into the deep waters of the Roadster to Bike World’s Grand Championship. Owned by Mike Herron, Alcazar was a sight tonight, as Colby came up one vote shy of unseating the Master of Faster.

It was a poignant moment as the third place winner was called out. This was Chanteur PV, driven by Merrill Murray. Peter Fenton took a moment to salute a ARHPA Hall of Famer who recently passed from this world, the great Rob Tanner. Rob was the owner of this horse, still listed as such in the horse show program that printed prior to the passing of the legendary horseman. Merrill removed his hat and raised it toward the sky, looking up and saluting his longtime friend.

While there were but two in the Hackney Pony World’s Grand Championship, the traditional penultimate event of the World’s Championship Horse Show, it finished with few dry eyes in the house. After 52 years as a pony trainer, Gib Marcucci went out on top. His final drive in the show ring came at the lines of two-time back-to-back cob-tail World’s Grand Champion Nabucco. Owned by Mary Campbell, the four-time winner is by Mr. Hawkeye and out of Albelarm Distinctive Lady. Somehow that seems fitting. Mr. Hawkeye was bred by Gib himself, while the Albelarm prefix can mean nothing but the grand lady of the show ring, Mrs. Alan R. Robson, who was of course long a customer of Gib Marcucci Stables. Everything is sold back at the Iowa home base. Gib drives back to Iowa to drop off the ponies and will continue on into the sunset. Think of some of the ponies you remember Gib working. Apollo Sand comes to mind, along with Dun-Haven Desiree, I’m A Big Leaguer, Dun-Haven High Time, Revelation, Heartland Triumphant King, Impress My Daddy, Royal Canadian, and of course the great Hazard County. Gib himself lists Top Hat has his favorite pony of all time. He would like to be remembered by the horse show community as a “nice guy, someone willing to help a fellow horseman.” Mr. Marcucci, sir, you will be remembered as that for certain, but we will all remember you for so much more. He drove off to retirement, wearing the roses and tricolor of a World’s Grand Champion, going out at the very pinnacle of the pony world, turning to wave to a standing crowd as he drove out the chute one final time. Doug Shiflet shed a tear, Melissa Moore shed more, and the emotional moment left the crowd momentarily drained.

Jeff McClean made sure that Gib had competition in his final show ring performance, taking the Three-Year-Old Hackney Pony winner back into the big stake for Golden Creek Farms. Heartland Road Show will certainly be back in this class again, as the tremendously talented son of Heartland Blackhawk and Heartland Just A Princess has all the gifts necessary to wear the roses.

The stage was then set for Bravo Blue to place his name among those placards in Freedom Hall. It wrapped up what had to be one of the greatest nights of horse show in recent memory. When Louisville fires like it did on Saturday night, it leaves you weary from the outpouring of emotion and excitement, and you can’t wait to get back. Every year. As of the print date of this paper, there will be 343 days until the first horse steps on the green shavings of the Kentucky State Fair again. It seems like it will never come, and then it is upon us once again. For the very few of you reading this who have never been a part of this singular tradition, you must. If you love horses and want to see the very best the world has to offer, you must. It is a spectacle unlike any other, there is an electricity, a buzz about it, that cannot be recreated anywhere else. Coming down that chute, hitting the wall of cold air, seeing the bright lights, the green shavings, all of it, there is just nothing to compare it to.

And that’s why we know we’ll see you all next year. 

More Stories

  • Obituary – Virginia Ann Hanson

    Virginia Ann Hanson, of Cornwall, Ontario, Canada (formerly of Big Oak Morgan Horse Farm, Lunenburg, Ontario) passed away at age 91. She was born January 14, 1929 in Newton, Massachusetts... Read More
  • What Matters? History Matters.

    As we come together next week in Lexington, KY for the UPHA annual convention, it’s interesting to note that the official registration and schedule notes that the UPHA is “joined by the American Hackney Horse Society, the American Morgan Horse Society, the American Road Horse and Pony Association, the American Saddlebred Horse Association, the American Saddlebred Museum, and the American Saddlebred Registry.”  Read More
  • Morgan Stallion Sweeps Set to Draw February 15th | Get Your Tickets Today

    The Morgan Stallion Sweeps, a raffle program featuring services to 15 of the top Morgan Stallions, today announced that tickets will be available at the upcoming UPHA National Conference and the New England Winter Weekend, and will continue to be available online at morganstallionsweeps.com... Read More
  • Complete Dispersal of Dr. Raun's Operations to be Held March 7 at Reedannland, Norwalk, Iowa

    Robertson Equine Sales LLC has been selected to manage the complete dispersal of Dr. Alan Raun’s legendary Reedannland breeding and training operations. Featuring 50-plus American Saddlebred horses of exceptionally choice breeding, all tack, and all equipment and trailers, the consignments are placed by The Estate or Trust of Dr. Alan R. Raun. Read More
  • Saddle Horse Report's 31st Annual World's Champion Sire Rating

    It’s that time of year when the most devoted to our sport, the breeders, pour over the statistics as they make their bloodline matches for the upcoming breeding season. The biggest hope is to find the right cross to produce a foal that will go on to win our most coveted prize: a Louisville blue ribbon. Read More
  • Gayle Lampe to Host Saddle Seat Riding Clinic

    Gayle Lampe is conducting a saddle seat riding clinic at William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri March 1-5, 2020. Riders are welcome to come for as many days as they wish; however, it is recommended to stay for at least three days... Read More
  • Latest Issue 1 13 20

    Read More
  • What Matters? Differences and Similarities Matter.

    According to J.H. Oldham, “Differences Were Meant Not to Divide but to Enrich.” Probably no truer words have ever been spoken. And with the American Saddlebred, there is certainly a broad spectrum of opinions and thoughts... Read More
  • ASHA Introduces New Star Show to Address Needs of Previously Unrated Shows

    The American Saddlebred Horse Association (ASHA) today announced the formation of a new “class” of shows for the 2020 show season. The “Star Show” program is the result of months of work by the ASHA Horse Show Task Force to bring organization and benefits to those shows that are currently unaffiliated with the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF).  Read More
  • Emily Brown Awarded Keith Bartz Impact Scholarship Award

    The American Saddlebred Museum is pleased to announce Emily Brown of Louisville, Kentucky is recipient of the Keith Bartz Impact Scholarship Award. The scholarship committee chose Brown from an outstanding group of nominees... Read More