The competition is keen, the week long, but still Saturday, and the final night of championship action, arrives all too soon for thousands of Walking Horse fans. In a few short hours, the last special presentation has been made, the final champion crowned, and another years comes to a close.

Saturday, September 5, was proclaimed Dr. Nathan J. Thomas Day, by the Celebration Board Of Directors. Dr. thomas served as the show’s veterinarian for 42 years, and on his retirement “saw” his first show Saturday night as he was honored in center ring. For decades he had only been able to hear it over the public address system in the barn area.

Wink Groover was called to center ring, as well, Saturday night, to be recognized as the Walking Horse Trainer of the Year, and Kathy Dunn was presented the Walking Horse Trainers Auxiliary Member of the Year distinction by her peers.

Seven classes made up the evening’s slate. When the last of the Owner-Amateur Riders on Mares or Geldings Championship was in the ring, there were 16 vying for World Grand Championship honors. Call Judge Howell, Second Judge Johnson and Third Judge Hamilton marked the cards.

Two entries asked for, and received, permission to be excused, leaving a field of 14. For the second straight year, and the fourth time since 1984, Mister Delight H, a Classic Horse, made the victory pass.

In the saddle for Jim and Sally Brown was Amanda Brown, who was the gelding’s jockey last year, as well, and thereby retired the Joe Tillet Memorial Challenge Trophy.

Reserve went to Our Secret Rhonda Voo and Bonnie Gerhardt for Jim and Bonnie Gerhardt. R & R’s Charming Lady was third with Karen Stewart riding for Jeffcoat Stables.

Since 25 answered Announcer Bobby Sand’s gate call, it was no surprise that Call Judge Irby, Second Judge Carpenter and Third Judge Hamilton narrowed the field to 14 before making their final decision.

When the spotlight fell, it landed on number 1710, What A Sunrise, ridden to the title by Steve Wilson for the Steve Wilson family. Reserve went to Royal Act and Jennifer Dunn for Meadow Brook Inc. Coin’s Walking The Floor walked to third with Stacy McConnell for McWhorter, McWhorter and McConnell.

Eleven two-year-olds made up the third championship class of the night. Judges Howell, Carpenter and Hamilton were charged with selecting the 10 ribbon recipients.

The judges went “all the way” with JFK, as all three cast their vote for the Castleman and Kilgore entry. Billy Gray was in the saddle for the winner.

Reserve went to Generator’s Chippendale, with Mitch Taylor up for Bleeker and Bleeker. Third belonged to Dr. and Mrs. W.S. Warr’s Gentleman Generator and Bill Cantrell.

Another large field was made up of 28 owner-amateur riders on four-year-old horses. This was their specialty championship. Thirteen returned to the rail for additional work. Judge Carpenter called the gaits. Second Judge Hamilton and Third Judge Irby rounded out the slate.

Valid Consent received the consent of all three judges for the tricolor, floral horseshoe and ride under the spotlight. Betty Robbins rode the Grand Champion for Howard and Betty Robbins.

Reserve went to Classic Generator and owner Gloria Smith. Doc’s Stroke Of Luck was third with Jamie “Red” Etheredge riding for Mr. and Mrs. Jamie “Red” Etheredge.

When the gate closed for the 15.2 and Under Championship, 13 entries were in the ring ready to work for Call Judge Johnson, Second Judge Carpenter and Third Judge Hamilton.

MG, that is, Gen’s Major General earned the championship title with David Landrum up for Hillview Farms, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bryant. Reserve honors were bestowed upon Romeo’s Paradise J.S., ridden by Paul Watlington for Ben Cate. Third place, and a crowd favorite, was the Bill Bobo-trained Royal Label, owned by Howard and Helen Utter.

With 17 entries in the Owner-Amateur Championship, Judges Carpenter, Hamilton and Irby, narrowed it down to a workout between Executive Order, Duke’s Timbrooke, Hallelujah’s Dude, Miss Walking Miracle, and Chill Factor for the top half of the field.

Walking away with the tricolor was Miss Walking Miracle and Steve Smith riding for Smith and Smith. Reserve, and a crowd favorite, was Duke’s Timbrooke, with Rhonda Warren in the saddle for David Swaim. The third place spot was filled by Chill Factor and Marcus Whitman Jr., riding for Dr. and Mrs. Marcus Whitman.

Two young women who have literally grown up in the business jockeyed the fourth and fifth place winners. Stacy McConnell and Hallelujah’s Dude were fourth for Medina and McConnell; Kelly Sherman and Executive Order were fifth for Floyd and Beverly Sherman.

Whether it was the Rebel flag, the checkered flag, the white pennant with the red copy, the hot air balloons, the billboards, or the rotating electric signs, all the hoopla of the previous nine days - and more - led to the moment the 13 entries came into the ring for the World Grand Championship.

In Celebration tradition, the crowd came to its feet, and came alive as its favorites entered the ring to work for Call Judge Johnson, Second Judge Hamilton and Third Judge Irby.

Even before the class, everyone knew who the crowd was supporting. It was evident in 1991, and the fervor surrounding Dark Spirit’s Rebel and Bud Dunn had not abated in the intervening year.

That made victory all the sweeter when number 1865 (note the historical irony) Dark Spirit’s Rebel, was called as the winner. To the thunderous applause of 28,691 fans, Rebel and his revered rider rode under the spotlight to collect their first championship title.

Reserve went to Pusher’s Big Score, ridden by Scott Benham for Fowler, Dean and Hughes, and thereby sent another top ribbon back to California. Wired and Dick Peebles claimed third for Gamble Farms.