By Mark Davis

The time is finally here!  It’s time to hand out some roses in Shelbyville!  Officially, two sets of roses have already been awarded in the Yearling World Grand Championship, held Saturday night and the Youth Equitation Championship, held Monday morning.  But, tonight the championship competition gets underway in earnest with 10 classes of competition, all crowning divisional World Grand Champions.

The judges for the 70th annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration include Rollie Beard of Lewisburg, Tenn., Nathan Clark of Arab, Ala., Jamie Hankins of Paris, Ky., Tommy Howell of Shelbyville, Tenn., and Mack Motes of Eagleville, Tenn.

As always, the show got underway with the saying of the invocation by Mark Ashley of New Hope Chapel, Shelbyville, Tenn., followed by the performing of the National Anthem by Bruce and Lisa of College Grove, Tenn.

With that, it was time to get the evening underway and call the first class, Owner-Amateur Youth Riders 6-17 on Walking Ponies World Grand Championship down to the big oval to work for the top prize in the division.  Fourteen of the 15 expected beat the clock to work in the section under the watch of Judge Jamie Hankins and his panel.  There’s no ride like a ride with the roses and tonight making that first ride of the evening was the team of Rudy Rudiger and Alexandria Holland showing for the Children of Neal & Sherry Holland of Decatur, Ala.  With the win, coupled with a win in 2006, the duo retired the J.E. Beasley, Jr. Memorial Challenge Trophy, the Master Plan/Gen’s Sundance Lady Challenge Trophy and the Little Big Man Challenge Trophy.  I’m Uncle Kracker and Haley Lane, World Champions in the 15-17 Pony preliminary, pulled in for the reserve honors for Dr. Linda Jones and Haley Lane of Bainbridge, Ga.  Sweepstakes Hy & Mighty and Joshua Wright were third for Jeffrey Hinson and Josh Wright of Hohenwald and Reagan, Tenn.

Alexandria Holland and Rudy Rudiger claimed the first set of roses for the Thursday night performance.

The Lite Shod entries were up for class 135, Plantation Pleasure Walking Horses, Lite Shod, World Grand Championship (Canter) with seven of the eight with reservations making the call to work to the pinnacle of the division as Judge Tommy Howell called the gaits for the class.  Riding away with all the honors in the division were Honor My Cash and Patrick Thomas, World Champions in the Plantation Pleasure Walking Horses, Lite Shod (Canter) preliminary on Thursday morning, riding for Debbie and Don Parmer of Elizabethtown, Pa.  Calvin Klein’s Obsession and Jeff Givens picked up the red streamers for Donald Knight of Murfreesboro, Tenn.  Rounding out the top three was Drop The Hammer and Connie Waldo riding for Waldo and Leek, LLC of Cedar Creek, Texas and Shelbyville, Tenn.

All nine of the teams expected made their way down the hill for class 136, 15.2 and Under Walking Horse World Grand Championship (Canter).  Judge Mack Motes led the panel in this section of Championship competition.  Shocking the competition with an outstanding performance were Shock Jock and Mickey McCormick, reserve World Champions in the 15.2 and Under Stallion preliminary, riding away with the tri-colors for Walker Coleman of Money, Miss.  A Formula One and Joel Weaver accepted the second award and Reserve World Grand Championship for Anthony and Brooks Depierro of Delray Beach, Fla.  Joe Cotten and More Of The Major were third for Jim and Judy Leek of Cedar Creek, Texas.

Twelve of the thirteen entries who called ahead made their way to the historic big oval to show off for the extra large Thursday night crowd in class 137, Elite Owner-Amateur Riders on Walking Horses World Grand Championship as Judge Rollie Beard led the panel in the event.  Making the ride of all rides on this Thursday night in Shelbyville, and doing so with a unanimous decision of the judging panel and the vocal support of the crowd, were Kid Callahan and Ed Breedlove riding away with the roses and tri colors for Genevieve Breedlove of Buford, Ga.  Last year’s WGC in the division, John F K’s Pusher and Robin MacDonald accepted the reserve honors for Bruce and Robin MacDonald of Atlanta, Ga. & Shelbyville, Tenn.  All In and Mike Inman pulled in for the golden streamers for Mike and Karen Inman of Marietta, Ga.

Kid Callahan and Ed Breedlove made a flawless performance and captured a first place vote from all five judges to win the roses.

Up next was class 138, Owner-Amateur Youth Riders 6-11 Years on Walking Mares or Geldings World Grand Championship featured 13 of the 16 on the books making their way down the hill for their chance at a moment that they will never forget.  Judge Nathan Clark served as Call Judge for the class.  Striking a big smile as they made the ride with the roses with a big round of applause from the crowd was Moonstruck Dollar and Alex Blackburn in the irons for proud mom, Stacy Blackburn of Franklin, Tenn.  Bold Stroke’s Attraction and owner/exhibitor Hailey Puckett of Wartrace, Tenn., pulled into the second position.  Sunrise’s Heartbeat and Isaac McGee rounded out the top three for Jeffrey McGee of Shelbyville, Tenn.

The pleasure horses were back on the track for class 139, Owner-Amateur English Trail Pleasure World Grand Championship with all 17 of those expected making their way to the big ring to show their very best for Judge Jamie Hankins and his cohorts.  Riding in the spotlight tonight with a unanimous decision of the panel was Playin’ Hooky and owner/exhibitor Liz Gassaway of Wartrace, Tenn.  This duo picked up three preliminary wins at the 2008 Celebration and moved up from their third place award in this championship in 2007.  I’m Benny Too and Tim Brooks were reserve for Tim and Terri Brooks of Hot Springs, Ark.  BJ Richards and High Tide Surfin’ were third for Stacey Richards of Franklin, Tenn.

Playin Hookey and Liz Gassaway won their forth blue ribbon of the 2008 Celebration.

Owner-Amateur Riders on Show Pleasure Walking Horses World Grand Championship, class 140, was up next on the evening’s program with 15 of the 16 with reservations walking down from the warm up ring working for their chance at that ride you never forget.  Judge Tommy Howell led the panel in the division.  Riding down the yellow brick road to the winner’s circle, it was Ironwork's Tin Man and Steve Jones making the winning ride for Ray Jones Trucking, Inc. of Greenville, Ky.  With this win and their win in the division in 2005, the duo retired the Cleveland Abee Memorial Challenge Trophy.  She’s One Hot Tamale and Amy Nesius were reserve in the class for McNeill & Nesius of Andalusia, Ala. & Chapel Hill, Tenn.  Coin’s Black Stroke and Jean O’Brien accepted the yellow streamers for Reggie Pimentel of Bell Buckle, Tenn.

Getting in the western way, class 141 featured the Western Plantation Pleasure Walking Horses, Lite Shod, World Grand Championship (Canter) with four of the five expected making the call to work for the spotlight ride in the division.  Judge Mack Motes served as Call Judge for the event.  Showing their very best to ride away with the tri colors with a unanimous decision of the panel was Red Sunday's Best and owner/exhibitor Laurie Toone of Bell Buckle, Tenn.  Drop The Hammer and Connie Waldo were second for Waldo & Leek, LLC of Cedar Creek, Texas and Shelbyville, Tenn.  Rounding out the top three was Jose' Quervo Gold and Joanne Davis showing for Williamson and Davis of Murfreesboro, Tenn.

The Performance horses were back on the track in class 142, Owner-Amateur Riders on Walking Horses, 15.2 and Under, World Grand Championship with 10 of the 11 programmed entries making the call to work under the watchful eye of Judge Rollie Beard and staff.  He’s my buddy, he’s your buddy, he’s Muddy Buddy and he’s a World Grand Champion tonight with Alicia Perry McDaniel riding for the David Perry family of Gaffney, S.C.  Texas Joe Black and Kathy Zeis, World Champions in the 15.2 and Under Amateur Stallions preliminary, pulled in for the red streamers for Steve and Kathy Zeis of Douglasville, Ga. & Shelbyville, Tenn.  The Phantom Menace and Thom Meek were third for Deerwood Manor of Brentwood, Tenn.

The final class on the evening’s program featured the Three-Year-Old World Grand Championship with 15 of the 18 on the books coming down to work for the roses as the panel, led by Judge Nathan Clark, and the Thursday night crowd watched attentively.  Claiming the championship honors in the division was the TWHBEA National Futurity Three-Year-Old Stallion champion, Naples Ritz and Tim Gray riding for William B. Johnson of Atlanta, Ga.  An interesting piece of trivia, fourteen years ago tonight, Tim Gray rode He’s Puttin’ On The Ritz to the title in this class and tonight he’s won on his son, Naples Ritz.  Show Of Jazz and Joe Martin were a popular reserve for Gus King of Arab, Ala.  Lined Walkin’ and Justin Harris were third for the Joey Tidwell family of Dallas, Ga.

Naples Ritz and Tim Gray were crowned the World Grand Champion Three Year Old team for Waterfall Farm.

With that, the first night of championship competition was complete and we added 10 new World Grand Champions to the record books.  A strong crowd was on hand to enjoy it all with a paid attendance of 20, 936 and actual attendance of 16,912.  Come back tomorrow night and watch history being made once again as 10 more World Grand Champions will be crowned.  The competition was hot tonight and Friday and Saturday promise to just get better and better.

Remember, the Music In The Plaza will continue tomorrow and Saturday starting at 5:15 pm and the Street Party will take place for two hours after the horse show out by the old warm up ring.  Make plans to be here and experience all the fun and excitement that only the World’s Greatest Horse Show can provide.