When Austin Knowlton looked at the sports page of Louisville's The Courier-Journal & Times on a recent Sunday morning, he had two reasons to be pleased. The Cincinnati Bengals had won and a five-gaited mare named Valerie Emerald had become the new world champion at the Kentucky State Fair Horse Show. Knowlton is a director and part-owner of the Bengals and owner of Valerie Emerald. He is also part-owner of the Cincinnati Reds, and they had lost. Oh, well—two out of three.
Valerie Emerald's victory had not come easily. The biggest class in recent years—18 horses—entered the ring for the stake. My My, who had won the event for the past six years, was dead, and every trainer with a stake horse was out to replace her. Knowlton himself had been waiting impatiently for some time. In the class, too, was Knowlton's 20-year-old daughter, Valerie, the only amateur, riding a horse called Purloined Emerald. You had to follow your program carefully to separate the Valeries and the Emeralds.
Valerie Emerald was one of the favorites as the class started, but there was strong opposition. Joanne Gauntt's Glory Kalarama had won the gelding stake two years in a row and was second to My My in 1968. Hayfield Farm's Hayfield's Bold Knight had won the stallion division, and Tom Moore on Knolland Farms' Hallelujah and Don Harris on the Grisbys' Giddy-Up-Go were also in contention. From the beginning it was obvious that this was going to be a very hard class to judge, and prolonging the suspense were interruptions while two shoes were replaced and a timeout was called for equipment repair. But the judges finally came up with six horses—the five favorites and Purloined Emerald. These were worked again and once more the choice was difficult. When the champion's red roses went to Valerie Emerald it set a record for rider Frank Bradshaw. He became the first to handle seven world's grand champions in a row. Reserve to Valerie Emerald was Hayfield's Bold Knight, and Glory Kalarama was third. Many spectators disagreed with the judges, and one remarked sarcastically, "I predict a long reign of one year."
That remains to be seen, but one other mare in the show is definitely enjoying an extended reign. Earlier in the evening Knolland Farms' Bellissima, with Tom Moore in the saddle, won the Grand Championship Three-Gaited Stake for the third year in a row. This, too, was a class full of quality and the judges sent three horses, Bellissima, the Dodge Stables' Lover's Sensation and the Twilight Stables' Snow Flurry out to work again. Snow Flurry, a mare from California, wears what must be the most unusual bridle in the show ring. Her owner, Helen Wallerstein, was visiting her furrier when she was struck by the new upholstery on his couch. It was a shiny bright blue, and Helen decided it would be fine material for a brow-and noseband. She tracked down the remnants and had her saddlery shop run up a browband and cavesson. Now when her mare passes in the ring she comments, "There goes Sam's sofa," a remark that is apt to mystify listeners. In Louisville Snow Flurry and Sam's sofa had to settle for third as Bellissima lived up to her name and left the ring wearing the winner's yellow roses.
Another repeat winner was a five-gaited pony named Right As Rain. He has lost only three classes in the last three years for his owner, 16-year-old Andrea Walton, and one of the defeats had occurred in this year's qualifying class at Louisville. "We were walking up to the ring through the barn area, and when we passed the chicken exhibit he opened his eyes and showed a lot of white," said Trainer Charles Crabtree. "I thought that son of a gun was going to doublecross me again!" It was all too true. In the ring Right As Rain was unmanageable. But it was a different story in the stake. The half-bred (by a Hackney stallion out of a Saddlebred mare) was very right that night and was champion gaited pony of the show.