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Memories of the Trainers’ Show run deep for many




This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of the industry’s most prominent events of the year, the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association National Show. Each year, the best of the best come together for the show in Shelbyville, Tennessee to get the season rolling — and it’s become a must stop on the agendas of many.

This year’s event, managed by Dean Byard, kicks off March 22 through 24 at the Calsonic Arena. Judges include Kenny Smith, Jamie Bradshaw and Allen Forman, who will surely have their hands full with many quality contenders expected to perform. 

The Trainers’ Show has long been known for serving as an early season sneak peek at trainers and horses who will go on to win the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in August. 

In the show’s 50-year history, 28 trainers have won the title at the Trainers’ Show. Of those 28, 13 — or 26 percent — have gone on to win the World Grand Championship. 

This year’s show, each night, will feature special tributes to those winning trainers of the past. One of those honorees will be Bill Cantrell. Cantrell says it’s hard to believe 25 years has gone by since he won the Trainers’ Show with Ultra Copy. 

It was indeed a special year for Bill Cantrell Stables, Inc. 

“I showed Ultra Copy for the first time as an aged horse,” Cantrell said. “He had already won the Three and Four-Year-Old World Grand Championships at the Celebration and in 1993 he was ready to move into the ranks of the aged competition.

“I remember it being one of the largest championship classes at the Trainers’ Show … And I was so humbled and blessed to hear our names called out as winners.”

Ultra Copy was a popular horse and he went on to be undefeated that show season and won his aged stallion preliminary division at the Celebration and returned the last Saturday night to be named reserve world grand champion.

“This was 25 years ago, and what is ironic is that I was WHTA president that year, in 1993. Fast forward 25 years later, and I am the WHTA president right now.”

Memories from the Trainers’ Show are plentiful. Just five years after Cantrell’s win aboard Ultra Copy, in 1998, Tim Gray walked away with the stake win aboard Generator’s Silver Dollar. He’ll be among honorees this year, as will his father, the late and legendary Billy Gray. Billy Gray won the Trainers’ Show twice in its history; once aboard Threat’s Black Power (1975) and once aboard The Secret’s Out (1987).

“One of the things Dad and I always looked forward to was showing off a good young horse there,” said Tim, who is now pursuing a new life journey in ministry and counseling while also working for Dr. Jim Baum. “You might have a slanky two-year-old that really filled out over winter and make a big show at the Trainers’ Show.”
Even though Gray is embarking in a different direction, he still loves the Trainers’ Show for being a platform for socializing, fellowship — a place where you “see the fever” come out after a long winter. 

“The Tennessee Walking Horse … Dad would always say ‘I don’t care what anyone says, they shall overcome,’” Gray said. “And they will. They shall overcome. The horses, trainers and owners have worked hard to adapt and overcome. It doesn’t matter if you’re five or 96. This horse has something for everyone.”
A few years after Tim Gray, Allan Callaway was in the spotlight for the final class of the 2001 Trainers’ Show when he rode Pride’s Jubilee Encore to victory. Callaway described the horse and the win as meaningful events in his prized career.

“That was a big win for the horse, no doubt about it,” Callaway said. “He went on to win the Celebration that year, and I think the Trainers’ Show paved the path for his success.”

Though most would agree of the show’s significance, Callaway shared a tidbit about the show’s history that many might not know. 

“Back in ’69, when the Trainers’ Show was in Nashville, we had the first 15.2 (and under) class for the walking horse industry, and I won that class with a horse called Mahagony’s Sensation. I remember this because I remember going to a meeting to discuss whether or not to have the class. We didn’t know how it would turn out but obviously it worked out well,” he laughed.

Who could forget Bob McQuerry and The Pusher? Adding to the prestigious crop of winners making season debuts at the Trainers’ Show, they captured the stake to the thrill of the masses in 1980. The Pusher had previously won the amateur world grand championship at the Celebration in 1979. Following the 1980 Trainers’ Show win, he went on to capture the Reserve World Grand Championship.

“The year after that, in 1981, he won the World Grand Championship,” McQuerry said. “He was a very easy horse to work; gifted with his front end. I always thought he was a horse that was sort of ahead of his time … One thing I always considered the Trainers’ Show to be was a place where you could show your young horses, and if they did well you could start working your way toward the Celebration.”

The year following The Pusher’s win, Ronnie Spears earned his second of two Trainers’ Show stake wins aboard Coco’s Sensation (his first win came in 1974, with Another Masterpiece).

“They were both very nice horses who went on to do a lot of winning over the years,” Spears said. “It was a real big honor to me and I’m glad I was able to be a part of it.”

While known for the entertainment it provides the crowd as well as the platform to bring friends together after a long season apart, the Trainers’ Show is equally known for being exactly what it is — a show for trainers. In fact, former walking horse trainer David Landrum credits the trainers for the show’s success over the years.
“It’s an important show, and a good show, because it’s put on by the trainers themselves,” Landrum said. “They understand the industry and what it takes to make a great show. This show sets the tone for the entire season — it’s the Daytona 500 for the walking horse industry.”

Landrum had many shares of wins over the years, although he only won the Trainers’ Show once, in 2009, when he directed The Golden Sovereign to the tricolor finish.

“That was a special win,” he said. “The Golden Sovereign is one of my all-time favorites. He’s a great horse with great owners. He’d won all throughout his career before our win, but mainly in the amateur ranks, so him and I coming together for that win was special.”

Among the 28 trainers who’ve achieved the ultimate victory at the Trainers’ Show, 22 of them are still living, including Jimmy McConnell. McConnell has won the Trainers’ Show more than any other trainer in history, an impressive six times to be exact.

“Well, I didn’t realize I’d won it that many times,” laughed McConnell. “Two or three of those horses I won with went on to win the Celebration, and I think that’s the case with many who win the Trainers’ Show. They’ll win or at least do well … I’m looking forward to this year’s show, and a great season. Things have been going really well and I think everyone is excited to get the season started. The Trainers’ Show is about the biggest show besides the Celebration.”

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