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It’s A Triple Crown For Boucheron and An Heir About Her

Normally in our sport when one hears the term “Triple Crown” we think of the poise, elegance, and ringmanship of a stand out equitation rider who had just swept the NHS Good Hands Finals, UPHA Senior Challenge Cup Finals and the USEF Medal Finals. While there were plenty of highly qualified equitation stars at this year’s American Royal, a Triple Crown winner did not materialize. In fact, three different riders won the separate jewels which make up the crown.

This year the term Triple Crown applied to the performance division. With two different superstars pulling off the historical feat it gave the UPHA/American Royal a triple double to borrow a term from the basketball world if you will. The last open performance Triple Crown winner was the ever popular Wild-Eyed and Wicked in 2000 and before that it would have been in the early 1990s with Five-Gaited World’s Grand Champion CH Callaway’s New Look and Fine Harness World’s Grand Champion CH Roselawn’s Secret Rhythm. It takes an exceptional horse and lots of luck for everything to go just right on the championship nights of these three industry icons.

Everything did fall into place for Chris Reiser and An Heir About Her as they paraded down the green shavings of Kemper Arena as the Three-Gaited National Champions. So precise. So four-cornered. So effortless. No horse in history has been able to do what she has done. In addition to her National Championship at the American Royal, the Supreme Heir daughter has seven unanimous world’s champion titles at the age of five.

“It has been an incredible run,” said owner Steve Hanes. “We are still so new to this it’s hard to grasp what she has accomplished. It has been a lot of fun. She amazed us the first time we saw her at Joan Lurie’s and she still amazes us every time we see her, which isn’t that often.”

It has also all fallen into place this year for the Stonecroft Farm bred CH Boucheron. The son of Shamrock Santana and Whata Jewel Whata Jewel gets the award for Most Improved Player, an award most thought would never be necessary.

We all witnessed Boucheron’s sensational athleticism as the Junior Five-Gaited World’s Grand Champion of 1997 and thought most assuredly he was the next “great one.” The following two years he won the Five-Gaited Gelding World’s Championships but could never get over the hump to win the big one, more often that not, beating himself.

The faith of the Groub family and trainer Rob Byers never wavered that one day they would find the right key, push the right buttons. Find the right combination. Boucheron and Byers turned the corner before a packed house of screaming well wishers at the Red Mile on July 17, 2004 to win the Lexington Junior League Five-Gaited Championship. Four months later and a Five-Gaited World’s Grand Championship and a Five-Gaited National Championship have elevated them to a status that very few have known before.

That last jewel wasn’t the easiest, as a healthy stake night crowd in Kansas City breathed a collective sigh of relief for Boucheron and Byers when at the end of the second way trot it looked like the gelding might get rattled again. False alarm. Byers put him right back to the rail for the slow gait and then applied the gas at his trademark rack to drive a deep nail into the proverbial coffin. Other than the six riders in the ring that were also giving it their best to win a national championship, and maybe those riders’ owners, the entire house was thrilled for the Byers/Groub team. Besides giving us an incredible display of power and talent, it was a feel good story we all long and hard work does pay off.

“He was a little tighter here because of the size of the ring. If he gets panicky he could go back to his old ways,” said Byers. “The first few times I worked him he had a little trouble coming down this ramp. I think he was feeling a little claustrophobic. He doesn’t like to be closed in or confined.

“Not a lot changed between Louisville and here as compared to between Lexington and Louisville. I worked on having a better slow gait and not just getting through my gaits. My biggest challenge was getting him flexible on the right side and that has gotten better and the curb bit is now usable. He’s a little more tuned into me.”

Boucheron and Byers have been such a success story for the whole industry that sometimes their competition has been forgotten. Boucheron not only behaved, he put on some performances this year that rank right up there with some of the best ever and had to as there have been a host of campaigners trying to knock him off his pedestal. Right at the top of that list is 2003 World’s Grand Champion CH Callaway’s Forecaster with Nancy Leigh Fisher.

“After the classes are over then I can look back and think about the horses and the great riders I was competing against. It’s an honor to be in that company, especially with someone like Nancy Leigh [Fisher]. She’s such a strong, yet classy competitor. You know she’s going to be riding to beat you." Triples and the numeral (3) seemed to play a major role throughout the week, a week that turned out to be the greatest American Royal in recent history. Manager Fern Bittner and UPHA President Randy Harper and their Royal/UPHA team put on an event that was every bit a National Championship Horse Show. It has gone far beyond just calling its winners National Champions; the physical conditions, the entertainment factor, and the competitiveness continue to escalate to a step above.

“Everyone worked together. Trainers, owners, exhibitors, they were all outstanding,” said Harper. “One big group brought this show together. I can’t say enough about the teamwork between the Royal and the UPHA. We had a few problems at the first of the week that got ironed out. Grounds manager Bob Wolfe is an incredible asset to this show. He goes above and beyond the call of duty.

“And besides the horse show, the sale [UPHA Classics Incentive Yearling Sale] was fantastic,” continued Harper. “We [the UPHA Sale Committee] were very nervous but thought this could work. We were thinking, ‘If we could average $5,000 that would be successful.’ Then it comes through with an average of over $11,000 with the top colt bringing $100,000. It was great. Fern [Bittner] and the Royal were very considerate to let us do this on a trial basis. We’re obviously going to have it here again next year. The committee couldn’t be any happier.”

As UPHA President, Harper was on the front lines working with Bittner to ensure this was a show of the highest quality. With an illness in the Frickey family, Harper was not showing here this week. The Frickey Farm ponies were sorely missed as that division was the only light spot in a deep show, but Harper didn’t have a vacation with the Frickey entries staying home.

“I found out I would have been a lot less busier if I had been here with a large string of ponies,” chuckled Harper. “It was a great learning experience from this side of the fence. Jim [Taylor], Chuck [Herbert], Jimmy [Robertson], John [Jones], Larry [Bacon], and the Royal staff, we were all trying hard to make a lot of people happy with what we were doing.

“The exhibitors have responded. Some of those Saddle Horse classes were every bit as good as Louisville. And the Saddle Horse Classics were phenomenal. There were horses that left the ring without ribbons that will be winning good classes next year.”

Outside of Stake Night at Louisville and Lexington, Thursday night at Kansas City is probably the most exciting night of the show season in the Saddlebred world. The Dabora/UPHA Classic Grand Championships were featured and Saddlebred exhibitors came in droves while the pony segment suffered for no apparent reason. Outside of the usual small handful of Royal supporters from the Hackney ranks, the majority of that industry does not/has not come to Kansas City.

That numeral three that was mentioned earlier, in relation to the Triple Crown performances of Boucheron and An Heir About Her, was also relevant to the UPHA Classic Championships in reference to John Conatser winning three of the eight big monied championships. The Fine Harness, Three-Gaited, and Harness Pony Classic Grand Championships (see UPHA Classics story in this issue) all returned to Conatser’s Carriage Lane Farm after Howie Schatzberg shot the winning victory passes. To make it even better all three were unanimous and all three were for different owners.

“I’m really thrilled and yet humbled by this,” said Conatser a week after it had time to sink in. “There are a lot of guys out there working just as hard. I’m not any better nor any worse a trainer than I was a year ago. It just all came together at the right time for this group of three-year-olds. I have some great owners behind me and we thought we had a chance to do well but there are always so many variables.”

Another element was added to the already prestigious Classic Grand Championships which were sponsored for the first time by Dabora Inc (Saddle Horse Report/Horse World Magazine/World Champion Horse Equipment). This was the first year added money from the UPHA Classics Incentive Sale was up for grabs. Two former consignments from that first sale split the $20,000 in added money, with Marching Orders and Mystic Pointe going home with an additional $10,000 each on top of the regular payouts. More than $134,000 in prize money, not including the incentive money, was awarded in the eight Classic Championships.

Just as three was a great number for Conatser, it made Andy and Lynda Freseth equally as happy. When their usually successful week was completed they had three different entries that won National Championships for the third consecutive year. Two of the three (CH The Shadow Knows, Callaway’s Pretty Penny, Pacifico’s Standing Ovation) had unanimous championships and the third collected two of the three first place votes.

“It wasn’t a bad day was it,” smiled Lynda Freseth at the conclusion of the Saturday afternoon session.

You could say the same thing for Jeff and Mary Gaylord McClean and their Golden Creek Farms stock. It was that number (3) again. This time it belonged to the little dynamo, Joan Jett. She marched as the Amateur Harness Pony National Champion for the third consecutive year with this one again being unanimous for driver Mary McClean and trainer Tom Lowry.

The judging panel that crowned the 2004 National Champions also played a big part in the overall success of this year’s show. Several had questioned why the Royal would hire three judges that usually bring lots of horses to the show. That question was soundly answered as exhibitors responded with the largest number of entries to date (785).

In the Saddlebred and Road Horse divisions, Nelson Green, Pat McConnell and Melissa Moore kept the well filled and competitive classes moving. In the pony classes Larry Ella joined Green and McConnell on the panel. Nancy McConnell, Green, and Lynn McNamara oversaw the Royal’s equitation division, while Cecile Hetzel Dunn, Barbe Smith, Lisa Richardson, Ellen Beard-Arnold, Michael Craghead, Maria Gilman, and McNamara presided over the different Equitation National Finals. The judging panel was assisted by veteran ringmasters Marion VandeWall and Kent Moeller.

While not overshadowed by the performance division the prestigious National Equitation Finals and American Royal Saddle Seat Equitation Championship which usually take most of the spotlight, were rivaled by incredible performance class after incredible performance class. Proving to be the finest from the Horsemanship Class of 2004, Brittany McGinnis, Kyle Gagnon, Brittany Rock, Kelsey Nicole Smith, and Ashley Alden earned their ink in the annals of equitation history.

It’s been a while since the regular open/amateur/junior exhibitor classes at the Royal ranked up there with the Equitation Finals and the UPHA Classics. It has been getting steadily better over the past few years but this was at a level far and above.

The Ladies Five-Gaited Championship and ladies gelding qualifier were superb with names like Title Bound, Callaway’s Born To Win, Amusing, Summer Sweet, Mahvalous Asset, Time Well Spent, and Jaunty Janette. Led by the legendary CH Blackberry Delight and last year’s national champion Heir To A Star, 18 battling for the Junior Exhibitor Three-Gaited Championship were unbelievable. Of the five entries in the Ladies Fine Harness class, any of the five could have won on a given day. Kalarama’s New Sensation did so on this day.

Pas de Deux and Callaway’s Merry Go Round facing off in the Ladies Three-Gaited Championship. Callaway’s Sugarplum and Callaway’s Halleys Comet in the amateur championship; Gone Platinum and Kalarama’s New Sensation in the Fine Harness Championship; titans collided every time you looked up.

The Amateur Fine Harness Championship had Metro Heirea, Candle Dan, Harlem’s Santa Fe, and Callaway’s Head Over Heels in the first four ribbons. Swish and Boo! going head to head with a ring full of other amateur gaited contenders made you want to jump in a saddle and experience the sensation Carol Hillenbrand and Barbara Goodman Manilow must have been having.

From the Amateur Road Pony Championship Seamair Strutter, Heartland Sundust, and Dun-Haven Awesome Image were the top three. It would take more than a couple hands to count the world’s titles among them.

“Class after class there were two, three and four world’s champions competing against several others who have won classes at major shows,” said Randy Harper. “You’ve got horses like that, there’s going to be excitement.”

Continuing the highlights, John Biggins brought the house down with the now arguably greatest two-year-old of all time, New York’s Perfect Gift. Sarah Sessoms became the youngest rider to ever win the large and highly competitive Five-Gaited Show Pleasure National Championship. Judy McNeish broke the gender barrier and won the Roadster To Wagon Championship and the Amateur Roadster To Bike Championship.

“In all of the years of being a part of this show, whether it be as an exhibitor, judge, steward, or manager, I’ve never seen the quality like it was this year,” said Fern Bittner.

Variety is what makes the UPHA/American Royal such a special show. Right there with all of the different national championships/finals is the AHHS Youth Medallion program. Designed to promote the Hackney breed to youth, the National Championships were again held at the Royal with ecstatic junior exhibitors and their ponies crowned in the road pony (two age groups), Hackney/Harness Combo, pleasure driving, road pony under saddle and pleasure under saddle divisions.

While the Royal has grown to attract the top horses and ponies from across the nation there is still a good portion of the show dedicated to the Missouri/Kansas exhibitors. The famous Mo-Kan classes were competitive in all sections highlighted by the Mo-Kan Tom Bass Memorial Five-Gaited Stake which was won by John Wallen and Absolute Starheart.

Some of the best of the Missouri breeding programs were also on display and for a pretty good payout I might add. Jammin Gypsy (by Gypsy Santana) won $11,000 with his performance in the Missouri Breeders Challenge Weanling Stake. Max Ciampoli made the winning presentation for Paul Diekmann.

Over the years the Royal has been known to work outside the box and get away from the traditional horse show routine. Country music concerts and FFA students used to fill the arena. There has also been a Concert of Champions in which the Kansas City Youth Symphony and stars from the show horse world shared the stage to a packed house. Small orchestras have also played for the weekend evening performances.

This year it was nothing as dramatic as the above mentioned, however, Peter Fenton rose to the occasion and moved from a horse show announcer to a Master of Ceremonies. His enthusiasm and his interaction with the audience was a step closer to making a horse show spectator friendly. On Saturday night when the championship classes were lined up head to tail out in the center of the ring and stripped, Fenton walked with the judges and told the audience something about each horse the judges were looking at.

To coin a phrase from a current popular television commercial....Brilliant! Speaking of commercials, corporate sponsors of the UPHA/American Royal had clips playing on the big screen above and they provided entertainment and a break from the down time between classes and while tabulating classes. The talking pet commercial for Bayer was a particularly huge hit.

Yes, the UPHA/American Royal is truly evolving into a National Championship Show which the participating industries can be extremely proud of. None of us might have been here to take part in such a show had it not been for the efforts of Indiana trainer Chuck Herbert. Just a few years ago the Royal was in danger until a group from the UPHA, spearheaded by Herbert, went to the Royal officials with a plan to join with the UPHA and bring this show back to and beyond the prominence it once enjoyed.

For his efforts Herbert was the first non-Missouri/Kansas recipient of the American Royal Horseperson Of The Year. Joined by his family and customers, Herbert was honored in center ring with a proclamation by the governor read by a great friend of the American Royal, Landon Rowland.

“I am extremely honored, but there was a lot of work by a lot of people that got us to this point,” said Herbert. “This is a good partnership and what an unbelievable show it was this year.”

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