By Sadie Fowler

The first Saturday night of the 81st annual Celebration can fairly be described as smooth sailing, or perhaps smooth walking is a better term. The crowd was on point, entries were at their best, the weather was great and, simply put, there was really nothing but good things to come out of the night. 

Amateur Ladies on Geldings kicked off the evening session, which was designated as Hats Off to the Celebration night, an extra layer of festivities to the normal evening routine. For the third year in a row, Gin Toddy kicked things off in winning style with Sue Irby in the saddle enjoying every walk of the way out. Warming herself up for what was going to be a fruitful night, Taylor Walters showed her masterful skills maneuvering the ring with Manning and secured reserve in the quality-filled class for Kelsey Andrews.  

Three-Year-Old Walking Mares had two sections, and at the end of the day, nothing could be finer than to be from Carolina, and that’s because Baucom Stables was the home base for the blues in both sections. In section A, the buzz around the barns and any given seating area was quite simply, “Wow, what a horse!” That horse was Me And Pocahontas, with Tyler Baucom up for Allyson Armstrong. I Am Melania and Casey Wright put forth a polished performance for the reserve streamers in section A and owners Eric and Diane Lackey were cheering them on every step of the way. 

In section B for this group of three-year-olds, it was Hayden Burks representing the Baucom group and he had everyone’s attention with the confident and fancy mare he was on with a name that fit her well. She’s Charismatic earned the nod from the judges, representing the Joseph Anthony Family. Always strong and carrying lots of skillful pride, Charlie Green received the crowd’s approval for America Strong’s reserve finish. 

The Trail Pleasure Five and Under class was a tight squeeze as usual but no one had a better position on the list when the cards were turned in than Blacklist and Joe Lester, for Kimberly Walden. Self Made Money and Jessica Hlebak made a name for themselves as well, earning reserve for Jack Pirtle.

In the Youth 12-17 Novice Walking Mares and Geldings class, Hot Dollar gave Carly Cagle a ride she’s never forget. It doesn’t often happen that you show for your very first time at the Celebration, much less do so and win. They were followed in the ribbons by Jimmy Johnson and Kaitlyn Peeler.

The Two-Year-Old Walking Mares also had two sections with about a dozen entries apiece. The first one finished with Jimmy McConnell making his first victory pass of Saturday night, expertly piloting Charlie’s Ritzy Lady like the fine horseman he is every step of the way for happy owners Bill and Karen Bean. The pretty and refined entry of from Saratoga, California named I’m Precious wore the reserve ribbon out of the ring, thanks to the capable direction of Mike Hannah.

In the B division for the two-year-olds, Havana Gin flashed, shook and walked her way to the winner’s circle with Tyler Baucom once again in the driver’s seat, indicating it was already a very good night for this crew. Solid and steady as always, Herbert Derickson made a consistent and respectable show with Hawk’s Miss Carmelita and walked away with the red streamers. 

Powerful, commanding and taking charge of every opportunity they had in Maverick Arena Saturday night, Tayler Walters was strictly business and she pushed hard to move up a spot in the ribbons from her reserve finish in this class last year … And, while everybody might not love the president, most of the audience seemed to be in agreement in regards to this Mr. Trump as they cheered the popular pair on as they walked down victory lane for Kelsey Andrews. Perhaps equally as special was the reaction of Dee Yoder, when she was called out as the reserve champion aboard Big Blue Nation. Truly grateful, Yoder had said earlier in the week she was crossing items off her bucket list this year. 

Seven newcomers to the Celebration came through the gate in the class that followed, the Yearling World Grand Championship, where the first set of roses would be distributed for the 2019 Celebration. A beautiful baby who seemed to have a natural show ring presence, A Mission Impossible was handled by Marty Warren for the win for Steve and Denise Smith. Game Patriot THF and Jackson Latham finished as the reserve champions. 

The Youth 6-14 Walking Ponies was one of the biggest showdowns of the night and besting all the bigger boys and girls in the very deep class of quality was BiBi Beasley and Lined Walkin’ for Beth Beasley. Jessica Lawwell had Anthony Davis going consistently at every turn and positioned herself well for the reserve ribbon. 

The Amateur Novice Gentlemen on Novice Stallions culminated with Sloe Gen Jose and Bart McWaters besting a talented field of riders to edge out of the novice category. BB Charlie Walker Red and Earl Rogers can still give it a go next year as they fell shy of the win and walked out with reserve. 

Thirteen entries emerged in the last class before the preliminary climax rounds, and it was the Amateur Five-Year-Old Mares and Geldings class. Having the Celebration of a lifetime, Dee Yoder came back from a reserve finish earlier to capture a huge blue ribbon and that winning feeling aboard Nip Of Gin. Walkin Miss Charlie and Jennifer Brown did their fair share of good walking as they gave it their all to secure the reserve position. 

The showdown was on in the first section of the preliminary stallions competition, with the crowd enthusiastically standing up to welcome seven entries into Maverick Arena to the tune of the Flat Walk Boogie. It’s hard to believe that in just one week from tonight another World Grand Campion will be crowned, and if Saturday night was any indication, the fight to the finish line is going to be one that’s definitely going to require skills, grit and perhaps a little bit of good luck. 

Tonight, each entry worked hard to position themselves throughout the class to get an edge, but perhaps no one more so than Rodney Dick, who pulled off every play he could to win the game, including a maverick style move as he stopped abruptly before making his last pass to allow Jamie Lawrence to “fly right by.” Because timing is everything, this move allowed him to have the last pass to himself and a few minutes later he and I’m Mayhem, a horse he’s paired up with several times in the past in quest of the big title, were called out from the line up as winners for Jo Ann Dowell. They won this same class last year but fell just shy of the World Grand Championship, and only time will tell if luck — which is preparation meeting opportunity — is on their side next Saturday night. 

Turns out, Lawrence might not have had the advantage of getting that final pass on the rail all to himself, but in end, he and the white horse he was riding — Hey, Tomcat — were also rewarded for their efforts and walked away as the reserve champions for Roy and Joan Wester. The crowd let them know they liked their performance. 

Showmanship was once again at the forefront in the B division, which featured nine entries and some familiar industry elites by way of both horses and their trainers. Positioning and maneuvering the ring to ensure their entries are seen is one of the biggest challenges in any class, but perhaps no more so than this one, and they all put forth their best shot. 

An exciting moment came when the winner was called out, partly because this was a new face to this particular game. Gayle Holcomb saw the potential in Border Run, her gorgeous contender ridden Saturday night by John Allan Callaway, and on Saturday night the rest of the Celebration audience saw that potential as well. 

Always a favorite for both horse folks and the local folks coming out to support their hometown boy, Herbert Derickson and Master’s Razzel And Jazz — who won one of the preliminary sections last year and put forth an unforgettable fight to the finish — fell just shy of the win but still left with great applause as the reserve champions for the Alan Riddley Family.