Skip to content

The Red Mile Challenges All

by Bob Funkhouser


The 71st edition of the Lexington Junior League Horse Show had its highs and lows and in betweens and when Sunday morning, July 15 rolled around and the jumbotron was gone, the extra dirt for the ring had been scraped away, vendors were loading the last of their wares and the box seats were being torn down and put away for another year, you could look back on a pretty nice show.


It won’t go down in the record books as the deepest or most competitive, however, there were plenty of well-filled classes with exhibitors that were happy to be there. It was hard not to be happy when central Kentucky was blessed with some of the best overall “Junior League” weather in quite some time. When the weather is good, there’s nothing quite like the backdrop of the famed Red Mile and its towering grandstand which first opened for racing in 1875.


It is a show that has a different feel. First of all there is so much history. Long noted for being a hard place to show, it still attracts the best just as it has decade after decade. CH Wing Commander, The Contender, CH Lilly Merrill, Cabaret, CH Princess Blanchita, CH Great Big Country, CH Stonewall’s Sound Of Music, CH You Are Love, Fancy Stitches, Showtime, CH Forest Song, Pipe Dream, CH Giddy-Up-Go, CH Broadland’s Patrician Lady, CH Oak Hills’ Dear One, CH Blarney Stone, CH Barbados Exit, CH Denmark’s The Music Man, Cherry’s Dream Boy, CH Zeberdee, Apollo Sand, CH Imperator, CH Glenview’s Warlock, CH Stonewall’s Crimson & Clover, Brass Lass, CH Lady Periana, CH The Groomsman, CH Winter Day, and CH Wild-Eyed and Wicked, are some of the names etched into the historic Memorial and Perpetual trophies that represent Lexington Junior League.


For those who have been around for a while, the above names evoke great memories of great horses and ponies putting on special performances for large audiences. However, for even the greenest of novices Lexington exudes an aura of something special. It might be the upscale vendors that fill the Gaited Gallery under the grandstand or it might be the way exhibitors, trainers and officials dress throughout the week or even the ASHA Art Auction in the Round Barn. They could also pick up on the tense feeling in the barn area at show time or the seriousness with which the other exhibitors navigate the Red Mile track. This is no ordinary horse show!


For the past 20 years Jim LaHood has been the man in charge of helping the Junior League make it an extraordinary show. The force behind Lexington Junior League’s only fund-raiser of the year included Show Chair Teresa Worten and Vice Chair Mary Jo Moloney. For 11 years now Lenard Davenport has assisted LaHood in this chore and for the past few years “Johnny On The Spot” Kent Moeller has served as the technical coordinator.


This group, along with the many volunteers and other officials, exhibited strong teamwork to get through a week that presented a few challenges, namely on Tuesday evening when a junior three-gaited horse went over the rail and into the announcer’s booth while awaiting the results of that class. The ensuing 30 minutes were both unbelievable and lucky. When it was all said and done, a broken ankle and broke nose for two of the Junior League volunteers and a few scratches for Our Axel Rose were the worst of a bizarre accident that appeared to be extremely serious.


Saddle Horse, Hackney and roadster enthusiasts saw many of their favorites going head to head on the long straightaways of the racetrack that has been home to the greats of the three breeds for generations. Very few shows have the following Lexington enjoys and that goes for both exhibitors and spectators. Again, the grandstand wasn’t filled to the rafters the way it was 20 and 30 years ago (although Tuesday evening’s heavily broadcast accident did bring a few more onlookers), but then again, no shows are. It’s a different day and time so let’s stop trying to compare today’s events with those we fondly remember.


The Saddlebred/Hackney/roadster industries can stand right up there with any of its contemporaries from the other breeds for a show at this level. Lexington is one of the cream of the crop; some years that cream is a little sweeter than others.


From the time the bugle sounded for the 14 & Under Junior Exhibitor Three-Gaited class on Monday night in which Oklahoma native Katie Cunningham and That’s Chicago earned the first blue of Lexington ’07 until Todd Miles and 2006 Five-Gaited World’s Grand Champion He’s The Man rode out as the Five-Gaited Grand Champion for Steven Chancellor to bring the show to a close, it was a week of solid classes with very few weak spots. That’s not to say that all of them finished as strong as they came in, however, these are horses and people, and you never know when both are going to be on top of their game at the same time.


There were a few extremely special performances for the Red Mile, the type that spectators come to expect more often that not. Right up there at the top of that list would have to be the junior harness sensation Joe Friday (Attaché’s Thunderbolt x Art Show). After four practice drives at home under the direction of Nelson Green, Kenny Wheeler made his debut with the horse described by many as the best Saddlebred in America right now and arguably the best fine harness horse in the history of the breed.


“That colt was born on Friday, July 13 and here it is Friday, July 13 again,” said John Conatser following the class. Conatser is the man who developed Joe Friday and showed him to the Three-Year-Old Fine Harness World’s Championship last year. “There’s just so much of him. It took me a little while to figure out he was a harness horse, but when we did it was like, ‘he was born for this.’”


“It was the thrill of a lifetime. I’ve never experienced anything like it,” said Wheeler. “Nelson [Green] had him beautifully prepared and it was the most fun I’ve ever had. I just tried to stay out of his way. I have been fortunate enough to show some pretty nice horses but from the minute he went through the gate I knew it was something special that I had never experienced before.”


Joe Friday’s former owner/trainer John Conatser (r)

joined current trainer Nelson Green and current

 owner/driver Kenny Wheeler following the sensational

performance given by the Junior Fine Harness

Champion on Friday night.



With greats like CH Special Entertainer, CH Tashi Ling, and CH A Sweet Treat, the Wheeler family has owned some of the breed’s greatest harness horses over the years. When Wheeler was asked what his mother (the late and dearly loved Sallie Wheeler) would have said, he responded, ‘Honey, I love him. Go have fun and stay out of his way.’ It was all about having fun for her.”


One of the other stars of Lexington ’07 also pulled a four-wheel buggy, except this champion was a miniature version of Joe Friday, Limit Harness Pony Champion Dun-Haven Phenomenal. With only six months of work under his back pad, this eight-year-old stallion brought down the house on Thursday evening in the Limit Harness Pony class with Maureen Lydon driving for Carl and Kathryn Nichols. Introduced to the show ring earlier this year, this was only the horse show for this unique and gifted performer.


“It was wonderful for us but most of all I’m so happy that he got that many people excited about a pony,” said Kathryn Nichols later that evening. “Everyone gets excited about a top horse but it’s been a while since that many people were excited about a pony.”


Carl Nichols, Maureen Lydon, Dun-Haven Phenomenal,
Rich Campbell and
Kathryn Nichols


“It wasn’t expected,” said trainer Rich Campbell. “First, with these long straightaways I had to make sure it was him they were clapping for. Not since Equality have I heard people react this way to a pony. His charisma is what makes him so special. He’s like a powder keg ready to explode.”


That charisma had everyone in the upper and lower grandstands and all places in between screaming for more as Lydon and Phenomenal made their victory pass with Campbell escorting them from the ring.


The very next class produced yet another of the week’s sensations, this one a three-year-old gaited filly. We all know Mary Gaylord McClean and Golden Creek Farms’s record in the show ring with both horses and ponies, however, their prowess as breeders is becoming more and more evident with each passing year.


Golden Creek Farms was the proud owner/breeder of Lynn Williams, a most elegant bay daughter of Top Spool and Carol Lynn (the dam of world’s champion According To Lynn). Tré Lee hit the ring with her in the last class of Thursday evening and she took everyone’s breath away. Much different than her already heralded half sister, Lynn Williams’s bold, yet elegant way of moving at all gaits was a sight to behold.


Mary and Jeff McClean couldn’t stop smiling as they watched their homebred product take over the Red Mile ring. They also plenty of reasons to be happy as the majority of their pony string also wore Lexington tricolors by week’s end. Mary topped it off with a crowd-pleasing ride in the Five-Gaited Championship with According To Lynn.


“That was fun,” exclaimed McClean following her Five-Gaited Reserve Grand Championship to He’s The Man and Todd Miles. “We all like to win, but when the crowd responds like that it’s a special feeling.”


Miles and He’s The Man was another storyline of this year’s event. Last year’s World’s Grand Champion Five-Gaited horse with Smith Lilly, He’s The Man was purchased earlier this year by the Steven Chancellor family and this was Miles’ first show with the Man On The Town gelding.


Earlier in the week they had a third place finish in the 11-horse gelding stake, but obviously did their homework before returning the sounds of My Ole Kentucky Home on Saturday night for the 10-horse Five-Gaited Championship.


“The first class took us by shock. We didn’t know what to expect,” said Miles. “Smith [Lilly] would be the first to tell you he wasn’t ready to show when the Chancellors bought him earlier this year. He was in the early part of being put back to work and then I’d be gone to this show and that show and got further behind. If I hadn’t taken him to Midwest to work we wouldn’t even be here.


“I was excited the day before the class because he was working really well, but when we got in the gelding class he was heavy in the bridle and heavy footed. I didn’t panic, as I never thought there was any pressure. That stuff doesn’t bother me. I’d been there before and I knew the world wasn’t going to come to an end because I lost a class. You have to be bad sometimes to get better.


“I was glad it was so early in the week because it gave us time to change his shoeing all the way around and change his bridle. It was very satisfying and rewarding to come back and make the improvements that we did. The longer he went the better he got and I felt like we reached our goals. The ultimate goal is to have him ready for Terri [Chancellor] to show.


“One of the local newspaper reporters asked me what I thought about the crowd showing so much support for Mary [McClean]. I told them, ‘Mary is a very high-class lady who does a lot for our industry and I’m one of her biggest fans. It’s great to have her as a competitor and rival.”


Competition and rivalries are two main ingredients to any successful show. Lexington had competition but especially in the open divisions there haven’t been many rivalries lately at anybody’s horse show. While they haven’t exactly been head to head rivals, the top two campaigners in the Fine Harness Championship have at least been a part of the division for some time.


The beautiful, black powerhouse known as Along Came A Spider (Sultan’s Great Day x Espere) has been a Red Mile favorite over the past few years winning the mare stake this year for the third time. Trainer George Knight also won this year’s stallion/gelding qualifier with a newcomer named Legend Of Troy.


On Saturday evening he returned with the black mare spinning her web for owner Georgia Herpin Baker. However, on this evening she had a formidable challenge in the form of the charismatic stallion Call Me Ringo, also a Sultan’s Great Day son. Coming back from a reserve in the stallion/gelding class with trainer Danette Musselman, Ringo and owner William Shatner paraded down Lexington’s victory lane much to the delight of the large audience. Along Came A Spider still had her fans and they gave her a great send off in reserve.


With many of the top open walk-trot horses of the past few years having moved on to the amateur divisions, that section appeared to be wide open. With a world of expression and pure athletic ability, Grande Gil tossed his name into the ring as the one to beat this year. Neil Visser presented the I’m The Prince son to convincingly win the over 15.2 stake and Three-Gaited Grand Championship for Joan Hamilton’s Kalarama Farm. Lexington was represented by all parts of the country as the New England team of Rob Turner and Sightline were reserve grand champions for Holli Esposito.


All parts of the country were indeed represented at Lexington ’07. Under the direction of California trainer Jennifer Dixon, California resident Katie Jarve had a show to remember as she went four for four with her two entries CH Callaway’s Capitol Reporter and CH A Magic Spell.


Katie Jarve with CH A Magic Spell


A few other junior exhibitors were just as dominant. In her last appearance at the Red Mile as a junior exhibitor, Florida native Ali DeGray was five for six, earning three different grand championships with CH Tigerlee, Kalarama’s High Roller and Seize The Moment. Those beautiful Lexington tricolors were hung on the red and black curtains of the Ruth Gimpel Stables.


Ali DeGray closed out her Lexington junior exhibitor
career with three different championships,

 including country pleasure with Kalarama’s High Roller



Not only was Lexington ’07 represented by horses, ponies and riders from across the United States, like the Saddlebred industry itself, it has an increasingly larger international flavor. Representing the Bulmer family from Hereford, England, Lionel Ferreira has tested the U.S. market with several nice horses over the past few years and Lexington has been a great testing ground for him. This year he put Georgia Bulmer and SJ The Smart Lady in the winner’s circle of the Amateur Three-Gaited 15.2 & Under Stake.


Also from across the waters, German-bred Blackie’s Rising Star (Harlem Spats Waller x Harlem’s Star Gazer) was the Five-Gaited Stallion Champion with Redd Crabtree riding for Martin Gueldner of Freudenberg, Germany. A closer look at this horse’s pedigree revels one of the best-bred stallions in this country.


Besides the new faces that this industry desperately needs, Lexington had its share of repeat champions who have established themselves as more than hard to beat.


CH Callaway’s Merry-Go-Round claimed the Amateur Three-Gaited Championship for the fourth consecutive year, the second with newest owner Christy Bennett. Jane Mueller and Early Edition again flexed their muscles as the Hackney Pleasure Driving Pony Grand Champions for the fourth straight year.


The Gaylord family had a great week
at Lexington. Christy Bennett (l) won the
Amateur Three-Gaited Championship for
the second straight year and Jeff and Mary
Gaylord McClean won numerous pony and horse
classes with their Golden Creek Farms stock.


Mike Barlow and Ashland call Lexington their own. This was the fifth consecutive year they went home with the Roadster To Wagon Championship. It was the third year Lime Twisted Gin has won on the Red Mile, the second consecutive as the Three-Gaited Park Grand Champion ridden by Clark Clouse. Also winning a Lexington title for the third consecutive year was 22-year-old Vindicator, the grand harness pony owned and exhibited by Karen Waldron.


In a different role this year, Lexington’s 2006 Five-Gaited Grand Champion Five O’Clock came back to put on a beautiful show with owner Chris Nalley to take the Amateur Five-Gaited Stallion/Gelding blue in their only showing.


Looking at the equitation stars of Lexington ’07, Brittany McGinnis has been first or second at Lexington every year since 2003 and this year, her first in the older age group, she brought home the Senior Saddle Seat Equitation Championship to DeLovely Farm. It was a star-studded championship filled with the likes of many experienced riders including remaining ribbons winners Ali Judah, Ellen Medley Wright, Jacqueline Beck, Lindsay Haupt, Emma Nichols, Kyle Gagnon, and Eleanor Watkins.


Having experienced Lexington success as a walk and trot rider, Taylor Newton added the Junior Saddle Seat Equitation Championship to her credits while riding under the direction of Sugar Knoll Farm.


Another winner representing the West Coast, Caroline Cherry did her parents, trainers Jim and Helen Cherry proud, as well as her Kentucky instructors Cindy Boel and Bonnie Zubrod, as she rode away with the Walk and Trot Equitation Championship. Another trainer’s daughter, Macey Miles was crowned reserve grand champion.


In her first year of adult competition, Knollwood Farm’s Michelle Krentz rode to the top of the USEF Adult Medal Finals that is always a highly competitive venture on the Red Mile.


These were the show ring highlights of the 71st Lexington Junior League Horse Show that was judged by Brian Chappell, Adam Clausen, and Lewis Eckard. John Whalen, Clausen and Eckard determined the equitation champions. It was a week in which they had their work cut out for them either with good classes or classes where it was hard to find a winner.


“I was pleased with this year’s show,” said manager Jim LaHood. “Yes, we were down on horses, but still had good classes. If I were in some of those tents last year and got as much water as we had, I might have to think about coming back also. That’s the reason we did away with the tents this year and moved those stables to the Tattersalls barns.


“I think people were pleasantly surprised with the Tattersalls barns. They had nice, big, safe stalls and were closer to the ring than some of the barns on the show grounds side and were closer than where some of the tents used to be.


“We made a warm up area and entrance gate on that end of the track so it made it even closer for those who were stabled there. It sure beat the heck out of tents. I think it was a home run.”


A few final scenes from Lexington 2007:


The Senior Saddle Seat Equitation Championship
contenders await their ribbons.


Lillian Shively’s riders competing in the Junior

Saddle Seat Equitation Championship included

Christina Collis, Callie Smith (reserve champion),

Belle Owen, and Abigail Mutrix.


Perry Heathcott, Ryan Visser, and Dirk Visser


Stevie Bagdasarian and Lady Hawke represented
Diamond View Farm as the Amateur Roadster

 Under Saddle Champions.


Susan Shepherd and Amy Rock share a moment in

the lineup before being named Amateur Five-Gaited

Reserve Champion and Champion with

Callaway’s Kit Carson and CH Amusing respectively.

Kaitlyn Lilley enjoys her first Lexington Junior
League Horse Show with her mom Stacie.

A former Lexington winner in open park,

Tax Man was presented by Peggy Councilman to win

 the Amateur Three-Gaited Park Championship.


Doreen Weston, Nancy Trent, and Kathy Snyder


The family resemblance is undeniable -

Misdee Wrigley Miller and her niece Ali DeGray


Gordon Campbell, Susann Strayer, and

Jack and Amy Haller enjoy Lexington’s hospitality.


Lexington Junior League wished John Shea

 a happy 76th birthday on Saturday night.


Another birthday celebration –

 the three Sarahs (Bennett, Sessoms, and Poole)
enjoy Cydni Simmons’s birthday a day early.

More Stories