Posted September 19, 2001

by Carole Hargett

As the spotlight scanned the line-up at the end of the stake class in 2000, Gilmer waited. Forty-six years old, with 28 years under his belt as a trainer, riding what he refers to as “the horse of a lifetime”, Gilmer waited. Then came the voice of Cliff Gillespie with that familiar phrasing, “...entry num-BER...1955!”

On the last Friday night of this year’s Celebration, Cash For Keeps, the reigning 2000 World Grand Champion, was welcomed back to the big oval for the last time. Cash For Keeps, Ray Gilmer, and number 1955, made their final ride before a record crowd of 21,831 admirers.

Harrell Brawner had announced several weeks before the 2000 Celebration that it would be Keeps last bid for the world grand championship. He thought perhaps people were tired of seeing the horse.

In what was described as a near perfect performance, Keeps and Gilmer displayed their intention to do what it took to carry the title home to Arkansas. And carry it away, they certainly did! The crowd’s roar was deafening as the class neared the final running walk. Keeps and Gilmer were afire and the crowd was just what they needed to fuel their determination. “The strongest round he made all night was the last round. That’s what you want to do”, Gilmer remembered.

It has been a year since that memorable night. Keeps and Gilmer have been busy exhibiting across the southeast as ambassadors for the breed. Appearances were made at the Germantown Charity horse show, the Magnolia Classic, the Dickson horse show, and the National Futurity. One of their most memorable occasions wasn’t an exhibition but the autograph session for Keeps and Gilmer on the Celebration grounds.

The Brawners had always wanted their champion to be accessible to the public and so they retired to the background so adoring fans could have their pictures taken with “their world grand champion”.

Eldridge Brawner remembered overhearing a lady in line saying “Oh, if I could just sit on a world grand champion, it would be the best thing that ever happened to me.” Brawner quickly obtained a stool and to the lady’s surprise said, “Okay, get up there!” She did, and after spending quite a while on Keeps, dismounted and exclaimed, “ It just dawned on me...I sat on a world grand champion!” That’s what it’s all about. Devoted owners, adoring fans, a loving trainer and a charismatic champion. If that was the end to a fantastic year, it would have been memorable, but the best was yet to come.

Eldridge Brawner explained that almost as soon as they won the title, plans were underway for the retirement ceremony.

In December of 2000, the Brawners and Bonnie Cady, breeder of Cash For Keeps, were present at the breeders banquet to accept awards for their contribution to this great horse. It was then that Cady approached the Brawners with an offer that “blew them away”.

Coin’s Hard Cash had never been formally retired and so Cady had saved his retirement blanket. She offered the blanket to Cash For Keeps for his retirement ceremony. After all, Cash For Keeps was the first world grand champion out of Coin’s Hard Cash. The Brawners accepted the gracious offer.

Seamstress extroardinaire, Carol Brown, had previously approached the Brawners concerning a blanket for Keeps. She accepted the task of altering the blanket and redoing the attached horseshoe of flowers. Following three fittings and some major alterations, (Keeps was quite a bit larger than Hard Cash) they were ready for Friday night. The black strip, which had Coin’s Hard Cash’s name on it, was removed and replaced with Cash For Keeps; additional black bands were added to account for the difference in body size. The original gold fabric remained in tact.

The Gilmers and the Brawners worked hand in hand to present a tasteful and elegant retirement ceremony. Many details had to be attended to and people contacted. They wanted it to be a time to reflect on Keeps’ career and to focus on the horse. In keeping with that theme, Gilmer remembered that “once in a lifetime night” when he heard the late Cliff Gillespie call out “1955’. A recording of that moment was played upon their entrance to the ring. Gillespie had expressed his delight at being able to announce the show that night. In a fitting tribute, the retirement ceremony was dedicated to the late Gillespie.

Gilmer also had the responsibility of finding a suitable song. He had been riding home from the Celebration when he heard a soundtrack from the movie, “Coyote Ugly”. Lee Ann Rhymes sang “Remember Me” and Gilmer never forgot it. That would be a great song, he thought. And so, on the retirement night, singer Janet Sides delivered that song under a spotlight while Keeps and Gilmer walked around the ring. “It was a very humbling experience for me and my family”, Gilmer remarked, “But I was worried that the song might be over before I got around the ring.”

Gilmer remembered seeing a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who reached out to touch the horse. He decided to take his time, and let everyone savor the moment. As he progressed up the west side, fans kissed, hugged, and patted the retiring champion...and he loved it! A little child said it all, with stuffed horse in hand and blue ribbon attached, “That’s my Keeps!”

Gilmer made another memory for the fans when he unexpectedly dismounted as he approached the east side of the arena, put the stirrups up and with reins in hand, allowed Cash For Keeps to freely move down the entire side.

If memories were what you came for, then you got them a hundred fold. The crowd will forever “remember” Cash For Keeps, 2000 Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Champion and Ray Gilmer’s grin that stole everyone’s heart as they attained the title.

Keeps and Gilmer were so well received during their many exhibitions, that the Brawners plan to continue his performances for another year. The Brawner family, the Gilmer family, and Cash For Keeps wish to thank their many fans for the “memories.”

Gilmer now stands Cash For Keeps at his new breeding and training facility located in Toone, Tenn. They are now teamed up to achieve the same success in the breeding arena.