It’s the first Saturday night of The 66th Annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration and the anticipation was high as the crowd flowed into the stands for the evening performance. The showers in the area all day kept the temperatures cool and comfortable making the night just right for a horse show. As always, promptly at 7 pm, flaghorse Counterfeit Dollar and World Champion rider Bud Seaton made their way through the entry gate with the American flag blowing in the breeze . The invocation was given by Dr. Lloyd Doyle, senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church, Shelbyville, Tenn. As always, Rochelle Snelling-Smith of Murfreesboro, Tenn. sang a memorable rendition of the national anthem that has almost become a Celebration tradition.

The late night on Friday night didn’t keep the fans from making their way back this evening. While last night’s 12:35 a.m. ending was late, it was nothing like the first Friday night last year when severe thunderstorms moved through the area roughly half way through the show, causing the show to be delayed an hour and not finish until 2:11 a.m. Believe it or not, the Saturday morning edition started promptly at 9 a.m., on both occasions..

Many questions still remain as to who we’ll see when the gates swing open for the Aged Stallions this evening. Will Bill Bobo bring 2003 World Grand Champion The Whole Nine Yards back for another try? Could Pride’s Pattern return to the showring after years in the breeding shed to be a real contender with trainer Kevin Gower in the irons? Will it be a night for the dark horse or the favorites? Only time will tell..

The young riders made their way to the ring to open the Saturday night schedule for class 65, Owner-Amateur Youth Riders on Walking Mares or Geldings, Riders 15-17 Years. Twenty-three of the 29 with reservations made the gate call to work as Tommy Loid called the gaits in the division. It was another “special” night for the reigning Youth 12-17 World Grand Championship team of Pusher’s Special Design and Kathryn Ramsbottom. The team made an extraordinary performance to capture the divisional title for the second consecutive year, retiring the Barbara Shelton Memorial Challenge Trophy and the N.B. Hardeman Memorial Challenge Trophy. Kathryn and “Special” preceded this win with 2004 wins at Centerville, Tenn.’s Grinder’s Switch show, Spring Fun Show and the Woodbury, Tenn. Lion’s Club Horse Show. Making a strong showing for reserve were New York, New York and Erica Mann for Mann Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep of Mt. Sterling, Ky. Always sharp anytime they’re in the showring, Pride’s Sharp Dressed Man and Gavin Kasser rode to the third award for Belle Meadow Farm of Wartrace, Tenn..

The Novice division continues to be one of the most popular classes at the Celebration, giving those people who have never had the honor of making that Celebration victory pass the real chance to do so. Class 66A, the Owner/Amateur Novice Lady Riders on Novice Walking Mares or Geldings, brought 34 of the 46 scheduled entries to the track to work for that opportunity to ride to the winner’s circle tonight. Huck Moss served as call judge in the division. The determination was made by the panel that a workout would be needed to determine the champion in the class, so 14 of the original 34 were asked to remain. When the work was complete, it was Cindy Sullivan that got to make that memorable ride down victory lane for the first time with Shelbyville, Tenn’s Walking For Education and Murfreesboro, Tenn. Exchange Club Horse Show champion Marketwatch for Rick and Cindy Sullivan of Shelbyville, Tenn. Reserve honors in the division went to Hand Over The Cash and Sue Irby for Irby Stables of Mobile, Ala. and Shelbyville, Tenn. Extra Jack and Kay Adcock accepted the third award for Kay and Lee Adcock of Shelbyville, Tenn..

Thirty-eight of the 46 programmed entries made the gate call to work for that same opportunity once again as class 66B took to the ring to work for Wayne Abee and his colleagues. After the initial work was complete, the panel determined that additional work would be needed to select the champion in the division and asked 13 of the original 38 to remain. Shortly after the teams went back to the track, Unparalled Delight and Lisa Bledsoe suffered the misfortune of a cast shoe and required a time out, but again, farrier Louie Staton’s record remains intact. He’s been able to replace every shoe cast thus far at the 2004 Celebration, so the team was able to complete their show..

I know of one couple who will be very happy with the outcome of this class. Longtime Georgia owners Jim and Jeanine Gullett were bound to be thrilled that their granddaughter, Kari Tisma and reigning East Tennessee Classic champion, The American Idol, made a striking performance to ride to the winner’s circle in the division for Jim Gullett of Duluth, Ga. Another Georgia exhibitor, Robin MacDonald captured a strong reserve with Copy’s Touchtone for Bruce and Robin MacDonald of Atlanta, Ga. and Shelbyville, Tenn. And Justice For All and Barbara Kenehan took the third award for Jay and Barbara Kenehan of Oconomowoc, Wisc., and Shelbyville, Tenn..

It was cowboy and cowgirl time in the big oval as the Western Park Pleasure Walking Horses (Canter) made their way to the ring with 12 of the 17 entered making the call. Bob Cherry served as call judge for the event. Again, it was a true Western classic that made that Celebration ride, multi-titled WC and WGC Strike It Rich and trainer Howard Hamilton riding for Randall and Gloria Dixon’s Red Eagle Farms of Dacula, Ga. This team preceded their Celebration win with victories at Panama City, Fla.’s Gulf Coast Charity Celebration and the Spring Fun Show. Reserve in the division went to the Belfast, Tenn. Lions Club Horse Show champion, Gen’s Magic Marker and Jeff Givens up for Cindy Sullivan of Shelbyville, Tenn. Reigning Western Park Pleasure WGC Double Your Money and Elizabeth Ottman rode to the yellow streamer for Dwight and Elizabeth Ottman of Owensboro,Ky..

Before the next class, there was a short break to recognize the 2004 Celebration Queen, Jamie Noe and first runner up Rachel Phillips. They were brought to center ring in Larry Lowman’s fully restored 1965 Cadiliac Coupe Deville convertible and were presented with a token by Celebration Board of Director Pat Marsh..

It was time for the trainers to hit the track as class 68A, Two-Year-Old Walking Mares walked to the ring with 25 of the 52 entered making the call with Joe Fleming calling the gaits in the division. When the work was complete, it was the reigning TWHBEA National Futurity Two-Year-Old Mare Champion, Sweepaway and Joe Cotten making the winning ride once again for Dr. and Mrs. R. Rigual of Oklahoma City, Okla. and San Juan, PR. Prior to their National Futurity and Celebration appearances, this team rode to the winner’s circle at Centerville, Tenn.’s Grinder’s Switch Show, Shelbyville, Tenn.’s Great Strides Charity Show and Dickson, Tenn.’s Dickson County Show. Spring Fun Show Champion, A High Dollar Charge and Winky Groover were the popular reserve for the Mark Taylor family of Shelbyville, Tenn. Hey Hey Ole’ and Jimmy McConnell captured the yellow streamer for Bob and Mary Medina of Skillman, NJ..

Thirty of the 52 programmed entries made the call to work for world class acclaim in the division before Tommy Loid and the Celebration judging staff. Pushing their way to the top of this division was the team of Major Ms Push and Dick Peebles riding for Wayne and Joyce Meadows of Ashland City, Tenn. They preceded this championship with wins at the Shelbyville, Tenn’s Liberty Lions Club and Walking For Education Horse Shows. Reserve went to the Pulaski, Tenn. Red Carpet Horse Show of the South Champion, Slow Dancing and Joe Cotten for Wink and Nancy Groover of Longview, Texas. Jose’s Senorita and John Allen Callaway picked up the third award for Farrell & Poley of Horsham, Pa..

The spotlight will be coming on for the first time of the 2004 Celebration as the Yearling World Grand Championship takes centerstage with 18 entries making the call to work for the roses under the watch of Huck Moss and his colleagues. Well, the winning continues for the outstanding young filly, I’m Shania Twain. She’s already won three World Championships and a National Futurity title and tonight she added a World Grand Championship title to her resume’. She was led on her spotlight ride by Roger Richards, Jr. for Dr. Roger Richards of Hendersonville, Tenn. With this win and his 2003 win with The Texas Lexus, Dr. Roger Richards retired The Claude L. Crowley Memorial Challenge Trophy, The Jack C. Stafford Memorial Challenge Trophy and The Scott Edwards Memorial Challenge Trophy. Reserve in the division went to the TWHBEA National Futurity Yearling Colt Champion and the World Champion Yearling Colt, Don’t Touch Me I’m Armed and Robert Nelms for Curt Washburn and J.T. Nelms of Fayetteville and College Grove, Tenn. Owner/Amateur Yearling World Champion Kiss For A Dollar and Chris Richards led to the yellow streamer for Dr. Roger Richards, Jerrold Pedigo and Dr. Grey Barker of Hendersonville and Murfreesboro,Tenn..

The A division of class 70, the Owner-Amateur Novice Gentleman Riders on Novice Walking Stallions took the track 24 strong out of the 27 programmed entries. Wayne Abee served as call judge in the division. Kevin Parton made a good choice with his most recent selection, Generator’s Double Coin, because the team topped this strong division to take home their first Celebration blue to Alexandria, Va. Of course, that means they’re no longer eligible for the Novice division, but somehow I don’t think Kevin will mind. Making a strong show to reserve in the division were A Special Ultra Copy and Bobby Mixon for Bobby and Linda Mixon of McIntyre, Ga. Third went to Elvis Pusher and owner/exhibitor John Furline of Athens, Ala..

Twenty-one of the 27 scheduled made the call for the B division of class 70, Owner -Amateur Novice Gentleman Riders on Novice Walking Stallions. Bob Cherry called the gaits in the division. It’s was a “wild” night for the winning team in this division, reigning Gulf Coast Charity Celebration and reserve Belfast Champion, He’s Wild Eyed and Wicked and Mike Walden. The team made an outstanding show to capture all five votes on the panel for the Mike Walden family of Ooltewah, Tenn. Reserve in the class went to Jordan and Steve Jones for the Ray Jones family of Greenville, Ky. I’m Packin’ A Pistol and Charlie Gibson for Charlene Gibson of Sykesville, Ga..

Finally, the time came that everyone had been waiting for all night Class 71, the Walking Stallions, Five Years and Over, Over 15.2 (Canter)..

Announcer Chip Walters informed the crowd that 15 of the 24 entered would make the call for the division. The first question in everyone’s mind was whether 2003 World Grand Champion, The Whole Nine Yards and Bill Bobo would return to the ring for 2004. It was not long before everyone knew that indeed he would not show. However, with Cash’s All Star, Main Power and Pusher’s High Voltage in the division it would still make for an excellent division. Joe Fleming served as call judge for the split. .

When the work was complete, the team of Cash’s All Star and Larry Edwards were called to the winner’s circle for owner Herb Murrath of Stone Mountain, Ga. This win was preceded by wins at Dawson, Ga.’s Cloverleaf Classic, the Spring Fun Show and Shelbyville, Tenn.’s Tony Rice Horse Show. Reserve in the hotly contested division was the reigning Mississippi State Charity, Woodbury Lions Club and Marshall County Horseman’s Association Champion, Main Power and Joe Cotten for Holland, King and Kilgore of Decatur, Arab and Tuscaloosa, Ala. Riding to a popular third was the reigning Manchester, Tenn. Lions Club Horse Show, East Tennessee Classic and Shelbyville, Tenn’s Great Strides Show Grand Champion Pusher’s High Voltage and Mickey McCormick for Beckie J. Hicks of Christiana, Tenn..

With that, it was time to see what the B division of Class 71 would bring to the ring. Again, announcer Chip Walters informed the eager crowd that 18 of the scheduled 25 would make the call to work as Tommy Loid called the gaits in the division. Once the horses entered the ring, it was obvious who the two favorites in the split would be, The Outlaw Jose Wales and Billy Gray and The Black Night Shade and Jimmy McConnell. Both teams were drawing a very strong response from the crowd throughout the class. When the class was called to the lineup, Gray and McConnell both remained in the North turn, long after everyone else had worked to the lineup in the south turn. Each was obviously waiting for the other to make the pass to the lineup first. Finally, with the roar of the crowd in the background, they both made a pass down the west side to the lineup. Truly another Celebration moment to remember..

Finally, the decision was made and The Black Night Shade and Jimmy McConnell claimed the championship honors for the second consecutive year retiring The Dark Spirit’s Rebel Memorial Challenge Trophy, The Ebony’s Time Around & Mr. and Mrs. Manning W Jones Memorial Challenge Trophy, The Marvin Wilson Memorial Challenge Trophy and The S.P. “Pete” Anderson Memorial Challenge Trophy. The Black Night Shade is proudly owned by Tom and Judy Waite of Milton, Fla..

With that, the first Saturday night was complete. The questions from early in the night were now answered, the favorites came through. The rain held off and the crowd of 22,318 witnessed another evening filled with moments to remember. You can guarantee that after this exciting evening of horse show action, that the talk will be heated all week about who will be riding for the roses come Saturday night..