The Name Says It All
World Grand Champion Watch It Now

by Jennifer Styskal

The Name Says It All. Eleven talented walking horses hit the gate for the Walking Horse World Grand Championship, and the title for 2009 was wide opening for the taking. The stake class is often considered to set the mood for the industry as it heads into the fall show season, and after Sept. 5, 2009, most felt confident and excited for the future of the walking horse breed.

Each of the 11 horses to enter the ring for the World Grand Championship had an equal portion of the crowd cheering them on, and when the class was called to line up and the spotlight landed on the 2009 champion, history was made once again. It would be an unforgettable moment for horse, trainer and owner.

A relative newcomer to the show scene, Watch It Now, whose name so fittingly carries the acronym WIN, surprised the Celebration crowd and brought it to its feet by winning the highest accolade of the walking horse world. In addition, trainer and rider Jimmy McConnell captured his third World Grand Championship in five years. William and Sandra Johnson of Waterfall Farm were the owners of a second World Grand Champion.

At 62 years young, McConnell has spent most of his life working for a chance to walk out of Celebration Arena under the spotlight on Saturday night. To carry out the World Grand Champion tricolor three times on three different horses within five years is quite an achievement. McConnell’s other wins came on The Black Night Shade in 2004 and Master Of Jazz in 2007. 

“After waiting so long to get the first one, I would have never dreamed that I would win three in five years,” said McConnell. “I thought it was a real long shot with the horse (Watch It Now) not being well-known. I knew I had a great horse but that is a big step (to win at the Celebration),” said McConnell.

“I knew whoever got the edge on the first weekend would be at a huge advantage and I felt the show we made on the first night gave him a real chance to win,” added McConnell.

McConnell’s not the only one to make a return trip to Celebration center ring. William and Sandra Johnson put their trust in their horse and trainer and were rewarded with a second World Grand Championship. He’s Puttin’ On The Ritz brought the Johnsons their first title in 1996.

 “From the first time we saw this horse about 20 months ago, Jimmy McConnell had said he was very capable of winning the World Grand Championship. We put our trust in Jimmy and followed his direction,” said the Johnsons.

“With Ritz, we purchased him as a coming two-year-old. Ritz had won as a two-year-old and three-year-old at the Celebration. Going into the 1996 championship, Ritz had a tremendous following. With WIN, this year, we felt like we were bringing out a “new” horse. It was a great thrill when the crowd supported him.”

The Skywatch son was bred by Jack Littrell, a former walking horse trainer and Celebration judge. His dam, Bo-Mar’s Pride Of Jubilee, by 1986 World Grand Champion Pride’s Jubilee Star, proved to be a consistent show horse as well as a great producer. In addition to Watch It Now, the mare also produced two-time World Champion Sky Walk; Dew More, a successful show horse; Mama Dew, the dam of three-time two-year-old winner this year A Special Presentation; and Reserve World Champion Another Skywalk.

The black colt with a white blaze face was born March 2003. His given name was You Watch It, which was changed to The Titan before the Johnsons bought him and changed it again to Watch It Now. He was started by Brock Tillman, then owned by Rusty Hyneman, and was later purchased by Joe and Cena Martin in July 2005. Watch It Now showed once in the open division as a two and three-year-old. Cena Martin took over the reins during his four-year-old year and earned several top ribbons.

In early 2008, the Kilgore and Holland families bought the budding star and placed him in training with Jimmy McConnell. The new trainer and young stallion debuted at Mississippi Charity with blue ribbon results. They captured the 15.2 & Over Stallions class as well as the Riders’ Cup Walking Horse Championship. They went on to earn a reserve in the Walking Horse Championship at Gallatin, and afterwards WIN was purchased by the Johnsons. At Marshall County, William Johnson stepped up in the saddle to claim the top honors in the Amateur 50 & Over Specialty class, and went on to do the same at PC Splash. In August, Johnson and Watch It Now walked out of Celebration Arena with a yellow ribbon from the Elite Owner-Amateur Gentleman Riders on Stallions World Championship.

In 2009, McConnell took over the riding duties once again. They swept a win at Brownsville in the Riders’ Cup Walking Horse Championship before marching into the Celebration. The first Saturday night of the Celebration arrived. Watch It Now and McConnell made the section A split of the Five & Over Stallions class. The six-year-old made a good show to pick up the reserve honors. Feeling good about their chances for a shot at the Big Stake, McConnell and WIN rested and fine-tuned for a week before heading back into Celebration Arena on the last Saturday of the show.

Eleven entries answered the gate call of the World Grand Championship. The trophy and title was up for grabs without there being a clear favorite. WIN and McConnell put on one of their best performances and thrilled the crowd as well as the judges. After the saddles were stripped for conformation judging and the riders mounted back up, the spotlight came to rest on a six-year-old unknown stallion and a trainer striving for his third World Grand Championship.

Before making his final pass of the night, McConnell was asked what made Watch It Now so special. McConnell simply said, “He is a walking horse and a show horse all in one package.”

 WIN is now spending his time at Waterfall Farms to prepare for the breeding season. The Johnsons and David Williams of Waterfall Farms are excited about what this young stallion has to offer the breeding world.

“When he was purchased, we planned to breed him after he’s done in the show ring and add him to our list of stallions,” said Williams. “He is a bloodline we don’t currently have on the farm. Skywatch is a great producer and we wanted to include that bloodline in our line up. His [Watch It Now’s] pedigree is something different we can offer.

“He is one of the most exciting horses I’ve been around,” Williams continued. “Jimmy told Mr. Johnson he had a horse that could in a World Grand Championship, and he did. Now our main focus is to use him as a sire and put some of the best colts in the ring. I feel he will do just that.”

It hasn’t been determined whether Watch It Now will return to the show ring in the future, but one thing is certain: whether it’s under saddle or in the breeding shed, Watch It Now will continue to turn heads and WIN.