by Mark Davis

      Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s finally the time that horse show fans have been waiting for all year, the final Saturday night of the 66th annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.  With the time nearing 7 pm in Shelbyville, Tenn., the crowds are gathering from every corner trying to make it to their seats before the action begins.  Don’t forget, someone will be honored as the Celebration’s 6,000,000 fan before the evening is complete.

      The questions around town have strong all day.  Will The Black Night Shade and Jimmy McConnell make the big step up from the reserve honors they captured in 2003?  Will Cash’s All Star and Larry Edwards, Aged Stallion division A World Champions, make the performance necessary to win it all?  Could “The Outlaw and The Legend,” The Outlaw Jose Wales and Billy Gray hold up the competition tonight? Don’t forget about Main Power and Joe Cotten.  After claiming top honors at Woodbury and Lewisburg, Tenn. and making a strong performance on Saturday night, could they win it all?

      And what about the X factors of the evening?  Could Shout, Aged Mare World Champion, and trainer Sammy Day make the performance necessary to make Day’s third World Grand Championship title a reality? Could a dark horse like Santini, trained by Jackie McConnell; or A Major Masterpiece, trained by Robbie Black; or Pusher’s American Patriot and Blake Sims come from the back of the pack with the show of a lifetime to win it all.  We’ll know soon enough. 

      Finally, everyone knew it was 7 pm as Counterfeit Dollar and Bud Seaton hit the track to present the colors for the evening’s performance.  The invocation for the final evening was given by Jeff Smith of the Southside Church of Christ, Shelbyville, Tenn., and Mark Hulsey of Atlanta, Ga. sang a memorable rendition of the national anthem.

      Then, it was time for the first championship division of the evening, class 144, Owner-Amateur Riders on Walking Mares or Geldings, World Grand Championship.  Eight of the 14 with reservations made the call as Bob Cherry called the gaits in the event.  Making the move up from the reserve position in 2003, Miracle At The Ritz and Sandra Johnson, 2004 World Champion Owner-Amateur Lady Riders on Walking Mares, captured the roses in the competitive division for Waterfall Farms of Shelbyville, Tenn.  Reserve honors went to the 40 time Celebration winner, Gen’s Fire & Ice and Susan Gordon riding for the Stonegait Farms of Orange, Calif.  Silverado Spirit and Erin Graf, 2004 Owner-Amateur Riders on Walking Mares or Geldings rode to the third award.

      During a break in the action, The Celebration’s 6,000,000th fan was officially honored.  Winning an impressive prize package including a weekend in Tunica, Miss. and tickets to the fall NASCAR race in Talladega, Ala., was Jason Sowell of Greenbriar, Tenn.

      The recipients of the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association Scholarships were also recognized.  Jessica Day, daughter of Sammy and Cindy Day of Shelbyville, Tenn., and Lindsay Oliver, daughter of Gary and Lynn Oliver of Lancaster, Ky. were honored as 2004 winners.

      Twelve of the sixteen programmed entries made the call to ride for the honor of making the spotlight ride in class 145, Owner-Amateur Riders on Three-Year-Old Walking Horses World Grand Championship.  Joe Fleming served as call judge in the division.  When the work was complete, Bill Johnson proved he wasn’t playing games as he rode divisional World Champion, JFK’S Monopoly to the winner’s circle, claiming World Grand Championships in back to back divisions for Waterfall Farms of Atlanta, Ga. and Shelbyville, Tenn.  This win marked the Bill and Sandra Johnson’s second win in the division retiring the Bob and Janine Myers Challenge Trophy, the Crowley Farms, Inc. Challenge Trophy and the Tom F. Jones Memorial Challenge Trophy.  Jazzed Up and Brenda Bramlett, preliminary winners in the C division, received reserve honors for Brenda Bramlett and Kelly Wilson of Shelbyville, Tenn.  Master Of Jazz and owner/exhibitor Lee Wall of Jackson, Miss.  made a strong performance to accept the third award.

      The future of the breed took center stage for class 146, the Walking Weanling World Grand Championship.  Nineteen of the 20 expected made the call to walk for roses in the division.  Tommy Loid served a call judge for the division.  Making the spotlight stroll was the team of A Jazz Attraction and Robert Nelms for the Curt Washburn family of Fayetteville, Tenn.  The duo topped the Weanling Filly division of the TWHBEA National Futurity on last Wednesday and returned to receive the nod of all five judges in the Weanling Filly preliminary on Monday morning.  Accepting reserve honors in the division, with a roar from the crowd, was the team of Look Who’s Taking Command and Nathan Mills handling for grandfather, Hoyte Eakes of Nashville, Tenn.  TWHBEA National Futurity Weanling Colt champion, Stonecutter’s Legacy and Chris Richards strolled to the third award for Mr. and Mrs. Charles Brantley of Wartrace, Tenn.

      The standing room only crowd got to take another look at the future as the Two-Year-Old Walking Horse World Grand Championship hit the track with 16 of the 18 entered making the call to work for Huck Moss and his colleagues.  Making the ride for the roses in the division was PGA and John Allan Callaway, World Champions from the A division of Monday night’s preliminary competition, riding for Robert Lanier and Jimmy Bratcher of Mansfield, Ga. An interesting note on PGA.  He is sired by multi-titled champion, Seve, and is one of roughly a dozen from the champion stallion’s first crop of colts.  Quite an accomplishment for a breeding stallion, having a World Grand Champion Two-Year-Old from his first crop of colts.  Reserve in the tough division was the duo of Card Trick and Jimmy McConnell riding for Ed and Carol Sims of Anaheim Hills, Calif.  Division B Preliminary World Champion, Gold Poison and Joe Cotten accepted third for Graham Holt of Lexington, Ky.

      The pleasure division took the spotlight in front of the Saturday Night crowd with 12 of the 14 expected making the call for the Plantation Pleasure Walking Horses, Lite Shod, Amateur Riders, World Grand Championship.  Wayne Abee called the gaits in the division.  Riding to the pinnacle of the division once again was the team of Pusher’s Beaming Pride and Jim Nichols riding for Jim and Debbie Nichols of New Market, Tenn.  With this win, combined with a win in 2002, “Beeper” and Nichols retire the Brent Crowell Memorial Challenge Trophy. This talented black stallion also captured top honors in the Plantation Pleasure Walking Horses, Lite Shod, World Grand Championship with trainer Howard Hamilton.Many time World Champion Jose Quervo Gold and Bob Lawrence riding for Jeff Ray and Nancy Yonko of Murfreesboro, Tenn.Elegance Of Design and Bruce Lovato accepted the yellow streamer for Nancy Lovato of West Jordan, Utah.

      The professionals were back for class 149, Walking Mares or Geldings World Grand Championship (Canter).Six of the eight with reservations made the call to work for Bob Cherry and his cohorts.In the midst of championship competition, Pusher’s Delightful Star and Joe Martin suffered misfortune when they cast a shoe.However, once again, farrier Louie Staton

came through and replaced the shoe, allowing the team to complete the event.  Proving that indeed danger was dead ahead, Cheatin' Danger and Joe Cotten dominated the division to capture the spotlight for Trish Harrison of Nashville, Tenn.  Kat Man Dude and Ray Gilmer accepted the red streamer for Mr. and Mrs. L.H. Gaines of Blytheville, Ark.  They Call Me Sir and Jimmy McConnell rode the third for Bob and Mary Medina of Skillman, NJ.

      Proving again that The Celebration crowd knows talent of any breed, The Celebration crowd once again showed showed their appreciation as representatives of the American Saddlebred industry presented winners from Louisville, Ky.’s American Saddlebred World’s Championship show, which concludes on the first Saturday night of The Celebration.  On exhibition this year were Ashland and Mike Barlow, the 2004 Roadster To Wagon World’s Grand Champion and the 2003-2004 World’s Champion Roadster To Wagon, trained by Mike and Kathy Barlow’s Buffalo Creek Farm of Eagleville, Tenn. and owned by Howard and Bobbye Six of Lewisburg, Tenn.  Also on exhibition was Power Ranger and Roadster legend Raymond Shivley.  Shivley and Power Ranger 2004 World’s Champion and World’s Grand Champion Roadster To Bike.  Power Ranger is trained by Raymond and Lillian Shivley’s Delovely Farm of Rockport, Ind.  On an interesting note, Shivley once trained Tennessee Walking Horses and American Saddlebreds in for John Crawford of Wartrace, Tenn.

      The competition heated up once again as class 150, Owner-Amateur Riders on Four-Year-Old Walking Horses World Grand Championship.  Thirteen of the 18 expected made the call to work for elite honors in the division as Joe Fleming worked the gaits in the event.  When the action was complete, it was no secret that the team of Secretive and Brooke Baker making the victory pass for the Keith Baker family of Columbia, Tenn.  It’s Billy The Kid and owner/exhibitor Sue Brassy of Chino Hills, Calif. made the strong performance to capture the reserve honors.  Third went to Sky Jam and Suzanne Littell riding for Bud Moore and Suzanne Littell of Catherine, Ala.

      With the Owner/Amateur Riders on Walking Horses World Grand Championship hitting the track, that meant that only one more class remained before the main event.  Riding to the winner’s circle was the team of Generator’s Champion and Caresse Mills riding for Hy Steppin Farm/Rusty Hyneman & Caresse Mills of Germantown, Tenn.  The stylish team of The Golden Sovereign and Keith McSwain rode to the reserve honors for the Dan McSwain family of Atlanta, Ga.  Dirty Little Games and Brandi Todd were riding hard for the third award taking the honors to Richmond, Ky.

      Finally, it was the time everyone had been waiting for, Class 152, the Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Championship (Canter).  Nine of the 11 entered made the call to work as Huck Moss called the gaits in the division.  When the work was complete, it was the divisional World Champion The Black Night Shade and Jimmy McConnell riding to the winner’s circle with a unanimous decision of the panel for Tom and Judy Waite of Milton, Fla.  Main Power and Joe Cotten proudly accepted the reserve honors for Holland, King & Kilgore of Decatur, Arab and Tuscaloosa, Ala.  Cash’s All Star and Larry Edwards rode to third for Herb Murrath of Stone Mountain, Ga.

      And, after Jimmy McConnell and The Black Night Shade made that final pass and photographers Jack Greene and Shane Shiflet took that final shot, the 66th edition of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration was in the record books.  It was certainly one to remember.