I Am José becomes first repeat grand champion since 1956
I Am José was named Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Champion on a soggy Saturday night, becoming the first horse to repeat as champion since Go Boy's Shadow in 1955 and 1956. Casey Wright rode the entry for Billy and Debbie Woods of Lexington.
Traditionally, the owners of the previous year's World Grand Champion donate a trophy for the new winner, and this year, the Woods were both the donors of that trophy and the recipients.
The championship closed out the 76th Annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.
Because the track was so rain-soaked, the traditional dragging of the track before the World Grand Championship was skipped, allowing the class to begin a few minutes sooner, much to the crowd's delight. As organist Larry Bright launched into his signature composition, "Flat Walk Boogie," three horses entered the ring for the big stake -- Mr. Heisman, Gen's Black Maverick, and I Am José. Two other horses, Lampshade and He's Unleashed, were listed in the program supplement but did not show.
The trio of horses performed for an enthusiastic crowd of die-hard fans who'd stuck it out through bad weather.
"Showmanship is alive here at the Celebration," said ring announcer Mark Farrar after a couple of the contenders milked a bit of extra applause from the crowd on their way to the lineup.
Mr. Heisman had been the only horse shown in the A division of last Saturday's Stallions Over 5 Years class, while Gen's Black Maverick had been the winner of the B division. I Am José, as a previous World Grand Champion, did not have to qualify through any preliminary class.
Last year, 2008 World Grand Champion Santana's El Niño attempted a repeat win but placed fifth in the championship class.
I'm Copperfield, Kenny Compton up for Rick Compton of North Tazewell, Va., won the Owner-Amateur World Grand Championship for the second year. Lord Stanley, ridden by Allison Thorson for ThorSport Inc. of Sandusky, Ohio, was reserve, while Strolling Thru The Ritz, Brian Reece up for the Jimmy Reece family of Pikeville, was third. A fourth entry, On The Line, was excused as the class went into lineup.
I'm Copperfield was the unanimous choice of the judging panel.
Walking Horse Trainers Association named Charlie Green its Trainer of the Year, adding the honor to Green's previous wins in 2007 and (as a co-honoree) 2013.
Rain slackens off
The first two-thirds of the evening were rain-soaked, but the rain got lighter as the evening went on, stopping about 10 p.m., allowing those fans who'd fled under the grandstands for shelter to return for the climactic horse show action.
There had been a few patches of rain a week earlier, on the first Saturday night of the show, but the second Saturday was far soggier. Farrar noted that the Celebration had a particularly-rainy championship night in 1969, but there have been improvements in the track and in the show's ability to track thunderstorms.
Some of the planned festivities had to be adjusted for the weather. For example, the plan had been to bring all first-time Celebration exhibitors into center ring for recognition, but instead they were simply acknowledged by Farrar and will receive their awards by mail.
Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was in attendance, was recognized by the Celebration and was one of the trophy and ribbon presenters for the World Grand Championship.
The evening opened with the Celebration's youngest competitors, children 6 and under on lead line ponies, making their way on a soggy track for the first World Grand Championship of the night. Rattle & Snap, BiBi Beasley up and led by Kasie Caldwell, was the winner. The entry is owned by BiBi and Maxine Beasley and Ashlyn Claire Brown of Athens, Ala., and Shelbyville.
* Samsung, owned and ridden by Megan Callaway of Shelbyville, won the Owner-Amateur Riders on Ponies World Grand Championship.
* Habanero, Jordan Howell up for Holland & Howell of Decatur, Ala., and Murfreesboro, won the Owner-Amateur Riders on Trail Pleasure Horses, 4 Years and Under, World Grand Championship.
* Turnbow, Russ Thompson up for Roger Emerick of Hillsborough, Calif., won the Show Pleasure Horses World Grand Championship.
* Gigi's Ember, handled by Jennifer Hankins for Bruce & Linda Vaughn of Valley City, Ohio, won the Weanling World Grand Championship.
* José's Dulce, Meghan Davis up, won the Owner-Amateur Riders on Mares or Geldings World Grand Championship for Shamrock Farms Inc. and Mike Davis of Shelbyville.
* Dirty Sexy Money, Jannie Chapman up for Dr. William and Jannie Chapman of Owens Crossroads, Ala., won the Owner-Amateur Park Performance World Grand Championship.
* Mr. Country Gentleman, owned and ridden by Robert Deutsch of Greensboro, N.C., won the Owner-Amateur Riders on 3-Year-Old Horses World Grand Championship.
* Honey Badger, owned and ridden by Lily Catherine Holland of Decatur, Ala., won the Owner-Amateur Youth Riders, 6-17, on Trail Pleasure Horses World Grand Championship.
* Tennessee State Line, John Allan Callaway up for Lisa Baum of Shelbyville, won the 2-Year-Old World Grand Championship.
* Simple Lee Dangerous, Kara Graham up for Kara Graham and Skylar Macleoud of Niota, won the Owner-Amateur Riders on Lite Shod Horses World Grand Championship.
* I'm Mayhem, Susan Coleman up for JoAnn Dowell and Susan Coleman of Powell, Ohio and Unionville, won the Owner-Amateur Riders on 4-Year-Old Horses World Grand Championship.
* Lined Up At The Ritz, Patrick Thomas up for Rowan & Nichols of Bluemont, Va., and New Market, won the Park Pleasure Horses World Grand Championship.