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The One and Only Lexington ....... J U N I O R L E A G U E

by Bob Funkhouser

Much like the Lexington traffic, the 70th annual Lexington Junior League Horse Show had exhibitors cruising, stopping and starting, slowing down and then hitting some wide open stretches with smooth sailing. When it was all said and done, officials, trainers and exhibitors had escaped relatively unscathed considering all of the rain that came through the area the week of July 10-15. Other than Friday night’s Amateur Three-Gaited Park Championship (which probably should have never gone in the ring) and the hour thereafter that it took to call off the remaining Friday night classes, it wasn’t a bad week.

Sure, a few showers were present during some of the morning and evening sessions, but not enough to wash them out. Luck was on the Junior League’s side as the heaviest rains were before and after sessions. Considering the oppressive heat that moved in the very next week, it was actually a pleasant stretch for the historic venue. As many trainers echoed, “at least it wasn’t 100 degrees and the track wasn’t so hard.”

Pleasant may not be the word Manager Jim LaHood, Assistant Manager Lenard Davenport, technical coordinator, head track overseer Scott Snider or Secretary Beth Snider would have used to describe their jobs that week, but with a good group behind them, they pulled it off for the exhibitors that came from coast to coast to be a part of one of the great Saddlebred traditions.

“I was really surprised at the number of barns that came who had never been here before,” said LaHood. “We had 976 horses which is up about 20. I was pleased with this year’s show and the cross section of exhibitors that we are getting. The ladies raised a lot of money and the community was behind us stronger than they ever have before.

“This is not an easy show, especially when the weather gets involved. We tried to weatherproof the tent stalls prior to exhibitors arriving but it was tough. With 400 temporary stalls it is hard to keep everyone happy even with the best of circumstances. We also had the track put down earlier than we’ve ever had it. We put in 200 yards of material and I bet 50 yards of it washed away during the week. We kept working on it and I think it was in great shape considering the rain. Shoes were not a factor this year.”

“I thought it was one of their better shows,” added Illinois trainer Lisa Strickland. “There were a few light spots, but overall I thought it was a good show.”

There’s nothing like walking along the grandstand stretch of pavement looking down on the makeshift horse show arena donned with the famed tan, red and green colors of the Lexington Junior League. For those who have been a part of it for years, the memories of industry greats come flashing back. Who could forget Don Harris and Giddy-Up-Go eating up the track and the competition, even though water was literally standing everywhere? Garland Bradshaw and Forest Song entertained like no others and years later he would come back with Broadland’s Patrician Lady trimmed for the first time to bring down the house, even though the judging panel didn’t think so on that night. Tom Moore on Stutz Bearcat as a three-year-old; Willie “Jackrabbit” Bottoms and the great R.P.M. barreling down the straightaways; Helen Crabtree and Glenview’s Warlock winning the Junior Three-Gaited Stake; Jean McLean Davis and Amateur Three-Gaited Grand Champion Oak Hill’s Dear One; Dewey Henderson standing up in the road bike to make his victory pass: these images have made Lexington Junior League what it is today.

Junior exhibitors have also stood out here, Cathy Noble with Stonewall’s Sound Of Music, Cacki Laughlin and A Touch Of Champagne, and Lindsay Lavery with Our Golden Duchess are a few who come to mind. There was also the night CH The Phoenix and CH Santana Lass had their showdown in the rain. Mary Gaylord and Terri Chancellor forever became a part of Lexington history in that great workout. With 69 years of topnotch battles behind it, the Red Mile stories could go on and on.

For the newer participants the setting can be intimidating: long straightaways, no turns, spectators lining the low rail, the jumbotron, they can all wreak havoc on the most seasoned of teams. They can also make a team light up like they never have and put on a performance that will forever be remembered. That’s part of what makes Lexington, Lexington!

It also doesn’t hurt that there are actually spectators. Saddlebred/Hackney/roadster enthusiasts from all over the country enjoy Lexington as much as any stop of the season due to the social atmosphere and the high caliber of horses, riders and drivers. Even if they aren’t showing, many professionals and amateurs are ringside for all the action. And on most nights the upper grandstand seats are filled with local spectators who have made Lexington Junior League a part of their summer entertainment.

With all the talk about money being spent on market studies and research it is a shame more isn’t done to promote the show horse at this venue. The jumbotron provides a great marketing tool, a tool that is currently not being used. Not one single advertisement on the big screen told enthusiastic spectators how they might become a part of the show horse world other than breeding. When the Saddlebred Association’s video of a foal’s first moments of life was played it elicited great applause from the audience, but for the general spectator who might have been thinking, “That would be a great thing to be a part of,” there were no phone numbers, no way parents could find out how to sign little Susie up for riding lessons, no information on how to find out more. There aren’t many other places or ways to pull in the general spectator that are better than a night under the stars at the Red Mile, and the entire industry should look for better ways to put this great marketing tool to use.

Exhibitors did their part to bring the entertainment value. While some of the bigger name farms in the area have dropped out of the Lexington tradition, others from around the country have more than picked up the slack. Making this truly a national event, barns from Oregon and California have made the effort to be a part of this great tradition. Bill Blacklaw winning the Amateur Fine Harness Championship with the South African stallion (SA) Dorian Warriors Song and Sandra Surber winning the Amateur Hackney Pony Championship with Heartland Candidate were among two lifetime experiences that Lexington ’06 provided.

“I was very happy for Mr. Blacklaw,” said Singing Hills trainer Gene van der Walt. “It was fun to be able to come back here and win with the stallion again.”

“I love this show. It has such a good tradition and a Southern feel to it,” said California exhibitor Sandra Surber. “To win the ladies class two years in a row and the amateur championship for the first time feels really, really good. I’m sorry more ponies didn’t come back after the cancellation, but it still feels fabulous to win a championship here.”

New Jersey exhibitor Kaitlyn Grom made two victory passes aboard Perfect Vengeance in two of the largest classes of the show, the Amateur Three-Gaited Park qualifier and championship. Actually she didn’t get to make the victory pass in the championship due to the Friday night storm. However, the young lady from Revelation Farm will never forget this trip. Canadian exhibitor and daughter of trainer Larry Ella, Shannon Ella had enough material to fill her scrapbook as she showed last year’s Junior Road Pony World’s Champion of Champions K & J’s Aviator to win the Junior Exhibitor Road Pony Championship and beating the best of the best to do so. The young pony enthusiast made the catch drive for owner Darrell Vaughn and trainers Maureen Lydon and Rich Campbell.

Lexington also provided lifelong memories for Oklahoma City native Christy Bennett. Having just graduated into the amateur ranks, she returned to the Sooner state with the Amateur Three-Gaited Championship in hand having ridden her Callaway’s Merry Go Round to the title. Also a youngster among amateur exhibitors, Wes Hall was right at home on the Red Mile track guiding his new entry Cosmical to the Amateur Roadster To Bike Championship. Proud mother Sandra Hall and sister/co-owner Erin Hall were on hand to help Wes celebrate his fourth drive ever with his new campaigner.

Still among the younger age group junior exhibitors, MBA Equestrian’s Ashley Baird experienced the thrill of a Lexington championship victory pass. Her scrapbook material came in the highly competitive Junior Exhibitor Show Pleasure Championship with the decorated Star Spangled Steel. Also enjoying a good season on the tough Midwest circuit, Knollwood Farm’s Lindsay Kellner represented the state of Wisconsin with championship honors in the Junior Exhibitor Five-Gaited Pleasure division, the largest prize of her young career.

The same could be said for Cape Cod Farm’s Casey Morgan Tibolet. The young lady from Ohio had a once in a lifetime week winning the Five-Gaited Pony Championship with Heiress To Champagne, a pony who has had a foal and come back from major illness. That sweet victory was shared by Tibolet’s championship ride in the junior exhibitor country pleasure division aboard Royal Crest’s The Ultimate Stone and in the equitation ranks, where she earned the NHS Good Hands title.

For some a Lexington title might not seem as hard as for others. For instance, Carolina junior exhibitor Camille Cowart, daughter of professionals Peter and Kim Cowart, made her Lexington debut and won not only once, but twice. Riding the homebred Heathermoor’s Prince who is co-owned by her grandmother Anita Cowart, Camille was called out by announcer Peter Doubleday as the winner in the Junior Exhibitor Three-Gaited 14 and Under qualifier and championship.

“I showed here for 20 years before I won my first Lexington blue,” exclaimed Kim Cowart. “Here she comes and does this the first time. I hope she realizes it doesn’t normally happen that way.”

Fellow Carolina exhibitor Brenda Kelly knows something about how hard it is to win here. As she told the audience during her jumbotron interview, it had been 41 years since she had won a Lexington title. Before this year’s Amateur Road Pony Championship with Cappuccino, her last win came in 1965 in the Amateur Three-Gaited class with The Contractor who was trained by Claude and Bill Alexander.

A Lexington title is something to covet for all those involved. Doing their part to become a part of Lexington lore was a strong representation of young trainers. The younger group of professionals didn’t move over and let the old guard just have their way.

Tre’ Lee was one of those making waves. He showed perhaps the most popular horse of the week among the crowd, Three-Gaited Under 15.2 Champion A Silver Charm. Good friend Matt Shiflet was right up there with three-year-old harness sensation Anadon’s Ruth, while another cohort, Clark Clouse, rode the star of the open park division, Lime Twisted Gin. Throw in Smith Lilly’s triumph in the Three-Year-Old Three-Gaited Stake with Lenore’s Chardonnay and Shelley Fisher directing CH Uncle Abe to the Adult Show Pleasure Championship and the younger set had a great week.

Assisted by ringmaster John Franzreb, Judges Paul Boone, Rick Wallen and Rob Wilson did find some room for the veterans. And proving just how hard it is to win a Lexington blue, Monday night’s Five-Gaited Gelding Stake aboard 2005 World’s Grand Champion 5 O’Clock was DeLovely trainer Todd Miles’ first personal Lexington blue. He would come back to earn a crowd pleasing tricolor as well in six-year-old 5 O’Clock’s season debut. Photographer Howie Schatzberg nailed the winning shot as 5 O’Clock added his name to the list of prestigious winners of Lexington’s Five-Gaited Grand Championship.

“I just haven’t showed here that much myself,” said Miles reflecting on his personal accomplishment. “I’ve always had a bunch of amateur and junior exhibitor riders to put into the ring.”

“I’m extremely happy for Todd [Miles] and very pleased with how 5 O’Clock showed here,” said Chris Nalley following the Five-Gaited Championship. “We have to remember these were only his [5 O’Clock’s] eighth and ninth career classes. He has matured a lot over the winter. Todd brought him here last year to work and it seemed to be a turning point for him so we decided to show here this year.”

Show he did, winning two unanimous decisions in both large and competitive classes. Unanimous ties also went the way of the multi-titled world’s grand champion CH Yes It’s True. Winner of last year’s over 15.2 stake and Three-Gaited Grand Championship for the Sledge family’s Pidgeon Roost Farm, the son of CF First Night Out was never better than his performance in the over 15.2 qualifier.

“We were setting on go,” said trainer Sam Stafford of Blythewood Farm. “I felt like we were ready for this week and he came through strong.”

Also in a repeat role, the ever-popular black mare Along Came A Spider wove her web around the competition to garner the Fine Harness Championship and mare class for trainer George Knight and owner Georgia Herpin Baker. It was the second consecutive year for the titles.

“She’s much fresher and wilder than she was last year,” commented Knight. “I don’t have to work her as hard now, just keep her conditioned and fresh. I turn her loose in the bull ring a lot and let her enjoy life.”

Also among the open champions, Ashland has quietly put together a great run in the Roadster To Wagon division. Trained and presented by Mike Barlow, Ashland has won the Roadster To Wagon Championship and open four consecutive years. No other horse or pony can currently boast that record.

A few other entries earned three-peat status with this year’s show. Callaway’s Merry Go Round captured the Amateur Three-Gaited Championship for the third consecutive season, although it was with a new jockey this year. The adult pleasure star CH My Grande also won a Lexington class for the third straight year, the second for rider Amanda Dellinger. Also making headlines, Early Edition and Jane Mueller visited the winner’s circle of the Hackney Pleasure Driving Pony Championship for the third year in a row.

Amateur of the week honors went to Mary Gaylord McClean and her Golden Creek Farms entries. She had an incredible week with both the horses and ponies including winning the Amateur Five-Gaited Championship and stallion/gelding qualifier with CH I’m A Treat; the Junior Five-Gaited Mare Stake with the homebred According To Lynn; and the Amateur Harness Pony Championship with Shake Don’t Stir. Husband Jeff “Gaylord” McClean as the interviewer called him from ringside at the jumbotron, won the Harness Pony Championship with Twin Willow’s Wild Thing and the Road Pony Championship with Heartland Production. These Golden Creek wins were in addition to several other single titles.

Judging is always a topic of conversation and Lexington did have a unique judging set up again this year. The Hackney and Harness pony classes were judged by a one-man panel, Denny Lang, and the equitation age groups were judged by a one-woman panel, Betsy Boone. Many exhibitors asked why there was only one opinion for classes at this level, especially when the other judges sitting in center ring were more than qualified to officiate in those divisions as well.

“The ponies had been judged that way before so that’s what I went with,” said LaHood. “As those divisions are growing I don’t know that I won’t go to a three-judge panel for the next show. As far as equitation, there have only been two, three, and four entries in the age groups and I frankly didn’t want more judges than riders. Now that we combined some of the ages the numbers were better and we’ll have to think about that.”

Lang did have a good group of ponies from which to choose the 2006 champions, as did Boone in the equitation ranks. Heartland Hackney, Bent Tree Farm and Golden Creek Farms pretty much dominated the pony classes. Veteran Jim Spurrier was also on hand to capture some Lexington silver.

In the equitation division, Lillian Shively and Missy Hughes again teamed up to dominate for DeLovely Farm. Representing the black and red colors of DeLovely were Senior Saddle Seat Equitation Grand Champion Alexandra Flynn, Junior Saddle Seat Equitation Grand Champion Ellen Medley Wright and Walk and Trot Equitation Grand Champion Courtney McGinnis. The other big title from the equitation ranks came in the USEF Adult Medal Finals. Home trained Brooke Jacobs trotted away with the national honors.

Due to several factors, namely the price of trimmed equitation horses, the fastest growing section of the division is pleasure equitation. The age groups and championships were large and competitive at Lexington. Knollwood Farm’s Deanna Lanigan ruled the older age group, while the Shelley Fisher instructed Taylor Newton rode away with the 13 and under title.

There is only one Lexington and many trainers may say, “Thank Goodness,” however, it remains one of the true jewels of the show horse industry. It has survived the test of time and has outlasted the worst that Mother Nature could throw at it. Its unique setting, the Gaited Gallery and all that the city has to offer have kept this show heads and shoulders above most others, in spite of the difficulties that can be incurred. As most would concur, it’s worth the effort!

Often lost is the good the show does for Central Kentucky. The Lexington Junior League is involved in so many worthwhile projects and their sole means of revenue is the annual horse show. Hats off to Junior League President Diane Cashen, Horse Show Chairperson Deidre Talbott, Vice-Chairperson Teresa Worten and the entire official team for another great experience.

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