By Sadie Fowler

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. — Starting out the final Saturday evening of what has been a monumental 80th anniversary Celebration in so many ways, a seasoned veteran topped the opening class of the night with the stands well-filled in the boxes as well as general admission. And the crowd was in the mood for fun, which started with live music and a meet and greet with 2017 World Grand Champion Gen’s Black Maverick, and was followed by the traditional opening ceremonies. 

The nostalgic evening was at its climax as locals and horse enthusiasts comfortably mixed to welcome eight contenders for the final class of the night, the Walking Horse World Grand Championship.

“Shelbyville, come to life!” said Mark Farrar as he got the crowd roaring in the final class of the night. “Pick out your favorite and tell us who you like!”

The eight-horse finale had an equal array of favorites spreading the crowd’s support across the board. After normal rail work, saddles came off as entries were judged on their conformation prior to all eight going back on the rail. Just as enthusiasm was at an all-time high and the horses were about to head to the line-up, one horse, A Bruce Pearl, threw a shoe and another rider, Chad Way, lost his stirrup, both which caused a slight delay in the show. After the timeout was finished and just before 11:30 p.m., organist Larry Bright appropriately played ”All Shook Up,” then “I Love You Just the Way You Are” before the contenders made one more pass along the rail before the winner was finally announced. 

But before all that happened, there was a first class on Saturday night, the Amateur Trail Pleasure Four and Under World Grand Championship. Here, last year’s reserve world grand champions from this same class Checkpoint Charlie and Tamara Hader represented Georgia for the big and unanimous win. This followed the horse’s win last night in the four and under open class with Laurie Toone riding. The balance of the ribbons started with Pitch Perfect and Miles Irby riding to the reserve finish. 

Entitlement and Clay Sanderson wowed the crowd for the second year in a row for owner Jordan Howell in the Show Pleasure World Grand Championship! They’d won previously at the Spring Fun, Red Carpet Show of the South, and started out with a reserve finish in their qualifier last week here at the Celebration. He’s Starbucks and John Allan Callaway finished reserve for proud owner Bud Moore.

Several presentations were made throughout the evening, breaking up the agenda. First, Tyler Baucom was presented the Trainer of the Year award, at the young age of 23. The 2018 Pleasure Trainer of the Year honor was presented to Joe Lester.

Fifteen strong, where seven had already been world grand champions and 12 world champions before this class, came through the gate next, for the really impressive Amateur Walking Mares and Geldings World Grand Championship. Fans cheered loud for a new winner to the class this year, Gin Toddy and Sue Irby of Shelbyville, while Zeta and Robert Deutsch earned a good reserve.  

Double digits marked the name of the game once again in the next class, the Amateur Park Performance World Grand Championship, where I’m A Proud American and Bill Williams finished with the world grand championship spotlight ride, also new winners to this class this year. Georgia Florida Line and Bruce MacDonald closed out their great Celebration for the reserve ride. 

A break in competition brought an amazing treat for the large Celebration crowd. Newly crowded World’s Champion of Champion I Am What I Am (the Saddlebred industry’s new Junior Five-Gaited Grand Champion) was expertly guided to Maverick Arena by trainer Suzy Shiflet. Suzy directed the stunning four-year-old mare around the ring wowing the crowd step after step. 

The Amateur Three-Year-Old World Grand Championship had the crowd on its feet when announcer Mark Farrar revealed a huge win for new team Sarah Coffee Burks and Dobie Gray who had everyone cheering them on to an emotional victory. In just about a year after returning to the industry after many years absent, Burks also directed the flashy and classy gray to the win in their qualifier this week. A Sunday Rose and Lisa Baum made the news for the reserve world grand championship ride, after earlier topping the A section of their qualifier at this year’s Celebration.

In the Amateur Youth 6-17 Trail Pleasure World Grand Championship I’m King Bee and Counti Green made a come-back ride to remember after finishing reserve in this same class last year. Addie Harris can be proud of her Celebration this year, including her reserve world grand championship, which she worked hard for with equine partner American Hustler.

With a dance contest keeping the largest crowd in recent Celebration history on fire in between classes, the Two-Year-Old Walking Horse World Grand Championship entertained as well. In the end, it was the undefeated standout star José Revival and Casey Wright besting the field of eight. They have previous season wins at the Spring Fun Show, Marshall County and also won their preliminary class, the B division of the two-year-old stallions, earlier in the show, for owners Bill and Debbie Woods. The reserve champion, with a huge crowd approval, was Blaise Broccard expertly piloting Coach Belichick, who topped his preliminary class in the C division earlier in the show for owner Harold Roberts.

Another evening with clear patterns emerging, Roscoe Jenkins won the amateur lite-shod world grand championship for the fourth year in a row, after also topping his Celebration qualifier this year as well with a grateful Susan Coleman capably directing the champion to the win. Lil Wayne and Emily Cotten held their own for their second poised ride of the week for reserve, for owner Jeff Gillespie.

Youth riders took the spotlight next for a special exhibit, the Stars of the Future, which featured of all the young stars who had won world grand championships this week. 

The crowd was revved up once again for the third to final class of the night, the 14-entry Amateur Four-Year-Old World Grand Championship, where last year’s Three-Year-Old World Grand Champion in the open division carried Kyndra Myers to the win of a lifetime in front of a crowd that loved watching her win. This was her first world grand championship ride, which she did representing owner Sherry Roberts. The crowd also sent off the reserve finishers — A Classic Action and Diana Cruse — with Celebration love as they also made a worthy performance in front of the many who came out to enjoy the show.

Next up: The Amateur World Grand Championship (Canter) class, which had the evening’s anticipation at its peak to see who would wear the crown out of the ring. All five judges were unanimous in all five places in the class, with Abby Fox and Led Zeppelin earning the tricolor for the second year in a row, after also having an undefeated season this year. The Mason Dixie Line and Beth Pippin captured the reserve finish for Wayne and Gail Putman. 

The final class of the evening, the show’s long-awaited finale, featured some of the industry’s best professionals; all had their own support and their own paths that led them to this moment. The class featured eight of the industry’s best and closed out the night with an eight-horse workout. Three-time reserve world champions Gen A’Mighty and Jimmy McConnell were unstoppable for the win for owner Mike Floyd of Columbia, Tennessee. Reserve finishers I’m Mayhem and Rodney Dick will proudly hang their hats back at Finish Line Farms and for owner Jo Ann Dowell. A Bruce Pearl finished third for Lisa Baum with John Allan Callaway up while Master’s Razzle And Jazz and Herbert Derickson walked out with fourth.

Just before the crowd exited the Big Oval for another historic year, Farrar expressed appreciation to the 113,961 paid attendees who made this year’s Celebrations one of the very best in many years.