(T-G Photo by Mary Reeves) [Order this photo]
By the time the gate opened for the first class of the Celebration's inaugural Fall Classic, that had changed. While not crowded to Celebration capacity, there were at least 200 people in the stands, ready for the show to begin.
"There's more people here than I expected," said Lewis Judd of Campbellsville, Ky. An amateur-owner rider himself, he came down just to see the show, leaving the horses behind this time. "And this is just Thursday night. By Saturday, there'll be a lot more."
Margaret Eakin, in charge of getting the horses registered for their classes, said it's not unusual for trainers to wait until just before show time to roll through the gates.
"It's like this at the Spring Fun Show, too," she said.
This late in the show season, she added, many of the out-of-town owners and trainers who would normally move onto the Celebration grounds for the duration of the show have already headed home, and some have already pulled the shoes off their horses and turned them out for the winter.
If the Fall Classic is as successful as the Celebration officials hope, those owners and trainers may wait a little longer next year to head home or turn horses out. Initiating a new horse show can be tricky in an industry that has set shows, all traditionally held on certain dates in the calendar. But the disappearance of many of those shows is what has made the Fall Classic so appealing to some.
"We love it," said trainer Don Mason of Petersburg. "We need more shows. A lot of the little shows have been called off and this gives us somewhere to go."
Another reason the Fall Classic has become an instant hit with some visitors is the timing.
"I think it's a great time of the year," said Bob Kilgore, one of the owners of this year's World Grand Champion, The Coach. "It's cooler and the weather is just beautiful. It's much better for the horses than that heat was."
Kilgore said he wouldn't mind seeing the Celebration moved deeper into fall for that reason, but if not, he'd like to see the Fall Classic grow "into a really big show."
Judd was not only impressed with the number of people who turned out for the first night of the first show, but the number of horses. Many classes had 8 to 10 horses in them, both from small trainers and the big names, such as McConnell, Groover and Bobo.
"It adds to the quality of the show," he said, adding that having the show in the big ring instead of the Calsonic Arena "adds a little pizazz."
"I think we're heading in the right direction,' said Judd. "A lot of horses showed. I think we're getting there."
The Fall Classic continues tonight and Saturday, with the first classes beginning at 6 p.m. each night.