It’s finally the time that Walking Horse fans from across the world wait for all year long, the Saturday night before Labor Day, which is, and always has been, the final night of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.  That, of course, is the night that Grand Champion of the World is crowned in the final class of the show.

            There have been two very exciting evening’s of Championship competition already and this evening’s performance promises to be just as exciting.  The talk of the week since everyone got their first look at the Aged Stallions last Saturday night has been who the team will be that will be able to step up their game tonight and ride away with the ultimate title and the roses. 

            Before we find that out, we’ll see more divisional World Grand Champions be crowned, which should provide one exciting evening of horse show.  The judges for the 70th Annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration included 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 in every year prior, the show got underway with the opening ceremonies and the presentation of the flag by a white horse, now Counterfeit Dollar, ridden by World Grand Champion rider Bud Seaton of Milton, Tenn., followed by the invocation and the singing of the National Anthem.  The invocation for this evening was given by Monnie Caine of Normandy Presbyterian Church of Normandy, Tenn., followed by the singing of the National Anthem by Pamela Greenway Hanes of Shelbyville, Tenn.  This was followed by the outstanding Patriotic Night ceremonies.

            With that, the competition was underway with the calling of class 156, Owner-Amateur Riders on Walking Ponies World Grand Championship.  Seven of the 10 with reservations made their way down to the historic big oval to work as Judge Mack Motes called the gaits in the class.  Riding to the checkered flag in the section was The Indy 500 and Sue Ann Dowell, winners of the Amateur Riders on Walking Pony Stallion preliminary earlier in the week, riding for proud mom, Jo Ann Dowell of Canton, Ohio.  I’m Packing A Pistol and owner/exhibitor Charlene Gibson of Sykesville, Md., were a very strong reserve.  Rounding out the top three was Main Power and Debbie Eichler in the irons for Rising Star Ranch of Shelbyville, Tenn.

            Thirteen of the 17 on the books were on the rail for class 157, Owner-Amateur Riders on Walking Mares or Geldings World Grand Championship.  Judge Rollie Beard served as Call Judge for this section.  Making that ride of a lifetime was My First Dollar and George Ann Pratt riding for Don Pratt of Shawnee Mission, Kansas.  A High Dollar Charge and owner/exhibitor Beverly Sherman of Dallas, Texas pulled into the second position.  Pushin’ That Jazz and Dalia Smith were third for Molly and Annabelle Smith of Manchester, Ky.

            The Saturday night crowd got in the western way for class 158, Western Plantation Pleasure Walking Horses, Lite Shod, World Grand Championship with all six of those expected making the gate call to work for the chance to ride in the spotlight in the division.  Carrying the roses out of the ring once again was the team of Drop The Hammer and Connie Waldo making the championship ride for Waldo & Leek, LLC of Cedar Creek, Texas and Shelbyville, Tenn.  Pulling in to accept the red streamers was Jose Quervo Gold and Joanne Davis riding for Williamson & Davis of Murfreesboro, Tenn.  Little Dumas and Mike Kluttz accepted the golden streamers for CB & Linda Daughtridge of Rocky Mount, N.C.

            The performance horses were back for class 159, Owner-Amateur Riders on Three-Year-Old Walking Horses World Grand Championship with 16 of the 20 who called ahead answering the call to the big oval to work for Judge Jamie Hankins and his staff.  Turning into the spotlight and headed to the winner’s circle to take the roses home to Mayberry, was I’m Wall Street and Clay Mills riding for Corbin Mills of Mt. Airy, N.C.  Nine Yard Blitz and Laura Cochran were reserve for Tim and Laura Cochran of Chatsworth, Ga.  Terror On The Border and Nancy Groover rounded out the top three for Wink and Nancy Groover of Longview, Texas.

            The kids were up for class 160, Owner-Amateur Youth English or Western Trail Pleasure, Riders 6-17 Years, World Grand Championship with all 16 of those expected working their tried and true entries down the hill to work for Judge Tommy Howell and his esteemed panel in hopes of making all of their dreams come true tonight.  Making that dream a reality was Mr. Jessie James and Mackenzie Morgan riding high in the saddle for Ann Jameson and Mackenzie Morgan of Union, WV and Bell Buckle, Tenn.  Suiza and Allison Thorson were close behind in the reserve position for Allison Thorson & Joseph Abernathy of Huron, Ohio and Byhalia, Miss.  A Sure Fire and Paige Bennett were third for Lynn Marchetti of Cottontown, Tenn.

            Up next on the schedule was the Stars Of The Future Showcase, a new addition on the Saturday Night schedule were all of the winners of the Youth division World Grand Championships were brought back to the big oval to show off the future of our breed for the large Saturday night crowd.  Those honored included Shake’s Little Midnight and Makenna Dempsey, Lead Line winner; Amy Nesius, Equitation World Grand Champion; Mr. Jessie James and Mackenzie Morgan, Youth Trail Pleasure World Grand Champion; Moonstruck Dollar and Alex Blackburn, Youth 11 and Under World Grand Champion and FDR and Amy Nesius, Youth 12-17 World Grand Champions.

            As the youth riders headed back up the hill, it was time for the babies of the show ring to make their way to the rail for class 161, Walking Weanling World Grand Championship as all 12 of the entries who called ahead made the call to work for the acclaim in the event.  Judge Mack Motes served as Call Judge for the section.  Walking in the spotlight tonight was Skyanide and Carlyle Johnson taking home the win with a unanimous decision of the judging panel for Fred and Vicki Benjamin of Humboldt, Tenn.  This duo topped the Weanling Colts preliminary on Monday morning and was reserve at the TWHBEA National Futurity.  Reserve honors went to the duo of CP3 and Chris Richards leading for James and Nancy Washburn of Fayetteville, Tenn.  Bobby Richards and Good Til The Last Drop rounded out the top three for The Womack & Say Families of Fairview, Tenn.

            The excitement level was high for class 162, Two-Year-Old Walking Horse World Grand Championship as 17 of the 23 with reservations made their way down from the warm up ring to work for the big crowd and the panel, led in the class by Judge Rollie Beard.  Making the straight line ride to the winner’s circle in the large and competitive division was Straight Line Cash and Phillip Trimble, World Champions in the Div. B preliminary on Monday night,  in the irons for Richard Justice of Pinson, Ala.  Dark & Shady and Jimmy McConnell pulled in for second for The Molly Walters Family of Southlake, Texas.  Larry Edwards and I’m Into Cash were third for Chuck & Sharon Tolhurst of Palmetto, Fla.

            Class 163 brought the Lite Shod horses back to the ring for the Owner-Amateur Riders on Plantation Pleasure Walking Horses, Lite Shod, World Grand Championship.  Seventeen of the 20 expected worked the track in the event as Judge Nathan Clark called the gaits in the class.  Riding away with the honors with a unanimous decision of the judging panel was Honor My Cash and Debbie Parmer in the saddle for Debbie and Don Parmer of Elizabethtown, Pa.  Picking up his second reserve of the night, Jose Quervo Gold and Curtis Williamson accepted the honors for Williamson and Davis of Murfreesboro, Tenn.  Marquita By Design and owner/exhibitor Kelly Sherman of Dallas, Texas were third.

            The Owner-Amateur Riders on Four-Year-old Walking Horses World Grand Championship was up next on the schedule with 15 of the 17 expected beating the clock and making the gate call to work in the event for Call Judge Jamie Hankins and his panel.  Shining in the sun in Shelbyville was the team of Palm Beach Ritz and Sandra Johnson, World Champions from earlier this week, riding for Sandra Johnson of Atlanta, Ga.  Dimaggio and owner/exhibitor Alexandria Holland rode into the second position in the class, while Roll The Gold and Spud Warr rounded out the top three for Warr Development of Phenix City, Ala.

            The pleasure horses hit the track for the final time of the 2008 Celebration in class 165, Park Pleasure Walking Horses World Grand Championship with nine of the 12 on the program making the call to work as Judge Tommy Howell called the gaits in the division.  Riding in the spotlight in the division was Fog At The Ritz and Patrick Thomas in the irons for Sisson and Hamilton of Beech Bluff and Murfreesboro, Tenn.  Headed back to East Tennessee with reserve was Marching Orders and Buffy Ailshie up for Ron Jones of Greeneville, Tenn.  The Grizzly and Kevin Marker picked up the golden streamers for David Mesimer of Concord, N.C.

            Class 166 brought the final Owner Amateur class of the 70th Annual Celebration to the track for the Owner-Amateur Riders on Walking Horses World Grand Championship (Canter) with six of the seven with reservations working to the historic big oval to work for the excited crowd.  Judge Mack Motes served as Call Judge for the section.  Arresting the competition and taking home the win to ole’ Virginia with a unanimous decision of the panel was NYPD and Kenny Compton riding high with a standing ovation from the West Grandstand for Jack Compton of North Tazewell, Va.  This duo topped the Amateur Aged Stallions (Canter) preliminary in 2007 and 2008.  The Games We Play and Clay Mills were reserve for Corbin Mills and Luther Fuller of Mt. Airy, N.C. and Kingsport, Tenn. Erica Derickson and Watch For Glory were third for Erica and Maria Derickson of Wartrace, Tenn.

            After a quick drag of the track by the “Big Orange” Kubota tractor, it was the time that everyone had been waiting for all year, time to call class 167, the Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Championship (Canter) to the historic big oval.  And, finally announcer Chip Walter did just that and called the eight entries to the track as organist Larry Bright played his signature “Flat Walk Boogie” and the extra large crowd clapped along.  Judge Rollie Beard served as Call Judge in this final event of the 2008 show.  After the first round of work, the entries were asked to pull in and strip the saddles for conformation judging.  Once that was complete, it was back on with the saddles and back on the track with everyone so the judges could make that final decision on just who the Grand Champion of the World and the ambassador for the breed would be in 2008.  As the teams made that second running walk, everyone in the historic arena, all 22,000 plus, was up on their feet and cheering for their favorite as they made their way around the ring. 

            Then, with that, the work was complete and the teams were in the line up.  All that had to happen now was the final judging and we would know just who that champion of the world would be in a few short moments.  In the meantime, announcer Chip Walters thanked the crowd for coming to be apart of The Celebration once again in 2008 with a paid attendance this evening of 23,829 and actual attendance of 22,156 and a paid attendance for the 10 days of 215,096.

            And then, announcer Chip Walters recorded history by calling the team of Santana’s El Nino and Link Webb into the spotlight, with an overwhelming roar from the Saturday night crowd, and into the winner’s circle riding for owners Michael and Ann Jones of Lafayette, Ga.  This duo was the 2007 15.2 and Under World Grand Champion and 2008 Reserve World Champion Aged Stallion.  Riding to the reserve honors was Jose’s Intimidator and Jamie Bradshaw, 2008 Aged Stallion, div A World Champion, riding for Randall Ferguson of Union Grove, Ala.  Rowdy Rev and Bill Bobo, Div B World Champions, were third for Bill Harlin of Franklin, Tenn.

            And with a few comments from World Grand Champion trainer Link Webb thanking the crowd for their overwhelming support, that final victory pass was taken and the 70th Annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration was in the history books and what a great one it has been.  If you weren’t here to take part, you missed out on one of the best ever, so don’t miss out again, make plans to be in Shelbyville August 26th through September 5th 2009!