Puttin' On the Ritz: A New Song and Dance in Shelbyville
with permission from
Voice of the Tennessee Walking Horse magazine, October,
By Vickie Presley Mazzola
It was all song and dance the last Saturday night in
August. The stadium was dark, the crowd hushed, the spotlights
danced over a field of the best Tennessee Walking Horse
stallions in the industry. Organist Larry Bright entertained
the impatient fans with his traditional Flat Walk Boogie,
while everyone waited anxiously for the 1996 World Grand
Champion Tennessee Walking Horse to be crowned. Finally,
after what seemed an eternity, announcer Bobby Sands took
a deep, deep breath and called #1268 for none other than
He's Puttin' On The Ritz!
Over the tremendous roar
of applause, trainer Sammy Day directed the magnificent
chestnut around the historic Celebration ring for a victory
pass that took everyone's breath away. He then turned Ritz
toward the center ring to receive the honors and accolades
This is no average story of a new
World Grand Champion, because He's Puttin' On The Ritz is
no average horse. Sammy Day is no average rider. And, Bill
and Sandra Johnson are no average owners. They all had what
it took to pursue a dream and see it through to the ultimate
He's Puttin' On The Ritz has a fire in his
heart, says a proud Bill Johnson. We believed he could be
a great horse from the day we bought him, and tonight, he
proved he was!
Ritz was bred and raised by Paige
and Gary Edwards in Dawson, Georgia. He was sired by the
late great A Comand Performance, out of Gen's Living Doll,
by Prides Generator out of a GLL's Carbon Copy mare. After
studying bloodlines, Paige decided to breed her Generator
mare to a son of Pride Of Midnight H. F. And, on Valentine's
Day in 1991, right during the middle of a vicious freezing
cold spell, the tiny foal was born. Paige originally named
the colt Desert Storm Commander since the conflict was then
His mother, Gen's Living Doll, has
been special to me all of her life, Paige said. She is extremely
smart, and has learned to do tricks since she was a baby.
It thrills me to know my favorite mare created this wonderful
horse. Paige added that Gary and she are especially pleased
that Ritz totally captured the heart of the crowd. He's
just one of those horses people seem to like immediately.
He's Puttin On The Ritz was bred sparingly late in the
fall and spring, and everyone is anxiously awaiting his
Ritz has one full brother that is also owned by
the Johnsons. He's a two-year-old plantation horse named
In Total Command who won an impressive ribbon in the two-year-old
The Johnsons purchased He's Puttin'
On The Ritz from Paige and Gary as a two year old in early
1993. Georgia trainer Flip Cook had been on the lookout
for a horse that could win the big one for the Johnsons.
He felt Ritz might be the one. Under the direction of Billy
Gray and son, Tim Gray, the young stallion proved to be
just as Paige had said, and then some. Shortly after Ritz
earned the title of 1993 Two-Year-Old World Grand Champion,
trainer Billy Gray remarked, He's a super good horse with
all the talent and ability a trainer could want.
That was just the beginning for the chestnut stallion.
Under the training abilities of the Grays and their Sand
Creek Farm, Ritz continued his winning ways to capture the
1994 Three-Year-Old World Championship along with many other
titles throughout the year. The 1995 show season started
off just the same until he suffered a hoof injury that kept
him out of the Celebration.
But, we all know the
great ones cannot be stopped. By the opening of the 1996
season, Ritz had recovered from his setback brilliantly.
Holding his head high and proud, he entered the show ring
and proved once again he was to be mentioned in the walking
horse history books. He won trophies and blues at the World
Cup Spring Premier, the Owingsville, Kentucky Lions Club
show, and Belfast, Tennessee.
During the time Ritz
was recuperating, Bill and Sandra Johnson also decided to
give their all to walking horses. They opened a state-of-the-art
addition to their Waterfall Farms with a top-notch training
and breeding facility in Shelbyville. They sought out David
Tenpenny, well-respected as a breeding farm manager, to
administer the breeding operations at the new location.
And, in order to bring all their padded show horses under
one roof, they hired noted trainer Sammy Day to oversee
the training facility.
Sammy Day is no stranger to
the WGC spotlight. In 1980, he directed Ebony's Mountain
Man to the prestigious title. The second time is just as
exciting as the first, he said with a grin. Especially with
a horse like Ritz. He started with two of the best trainers
in the industry, and I'm proud to have trained him this
past year and for the opportunity to ride him under the
Day gives full credit to the two other
men who have shined in the life of He's Puttin' On The Ritz.
The Gray's Sand Creek Farm is an icon in the industry which
has trained countless numbers of both World Champions and
World Grand Champions. In fact, Billy Gray has trained and
ridden three stallions to World Grand Championships.
Billy and Tim are professional and dedicated trainers, added
Bill Johnson. We appreciate their efforts very much.
Sandra Johnson agreed. The people we've met have been
so hospitable and warm since we first became involved with
walking horses. I believe that's a good indication of the
character of the industry overall. Before and after Ritz
won his title, so many old and new friends and acquaintances
dropped by the stables to wish us the best. The walking
horse circles are full of so many wonderful and genuinely
Two genuinely nice people themselves,
Bill and Sandra Johnson have given back to the industry
far more than they could imagine. From establishing an impressive
educational scholarship program right down to offering chilled
bottled water on hot Celebration days, they have become
a welcomed part of the industry. During the festivities,
the Johnsons invited everyone (and we do mean everyone )
over to the new Waterfall Farms training and breeding facility
for a delicious barbecue lunch on the grounds.
and I are firm believers that if it's worth doing, it's
worth doing right, said Bill. Our commitment to the horses
is no different. When we decided to pursue the walking horses,
our objective was to acquire the very best we could find
and send them to the very best trainers. Acquiring younger
horses enabled us to bring them along and enjoy them ourselves.
It also gave us a chance to learn about them and be there
while they were growing up and to be involved as they became
competitive winners. Although I hoped for one of my horses
to one day achieve the World Grand Champion title, I never
imagined it would be so soon!
Bill and Sandra have
been married for 35 years, and both have been interested
in horses all their lives. Sandra's family is full of respected
veterinarians. Her father was one of the top veterinarians
in the Atlanta area for more than 40 years. Two of her uncles
are also veterinarians as well as her brother.
chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the
Atlanta-based W. B. Johnson Properties, Inc. and its subsidiary,
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Bill approached horses with
the same commitment to quality.
Quarter Horses captured
his attention early on, but a persistent friend and business
colleague, R. Randall Rollins, kept him in the know when
it came to walking horses. Many remember Mr. Rollins as
the owner of the 1970 World Grand Champion Tennessee Walking
Horse, Ace's Sensation.
Gradually, Bill's interest
shifted completely to walking horses, and now he is hooked.
There is just no other breed with more to offer than walking
horses, he said. We enjoy bringing our friends over to see
and ride our pleasure horses. They are always so surprised
that there is a horse that can do it all.
next for He's Puttin' on the Ritz? The World Grand Champion
Tennessee Walking Horse has always served as an ambassador
for the breed. The Johnsons plan to continue that tradition.
He will be exhibited in special performances all across
the country such as Asheville, North Carolina and others.
Primarily, however, the Johnson's plan for Ritz to continue
his part in helping Waterfall Farms build a distinctive
reputation as a top-notch training and breeding facility.
He will stand beside Prides Generator, Coin's Hard Cash,
JFK, Doc's High Tribute, Pride's Clutch, Cash For Keeps,
Impressive Sun Rise, and others, all top stallions in their
Although booking fees for Ritz have
not yet been disclosed, he will stand at stud beginning
this fall. He's Puttin' On The Ritz is certain to make his
mark as a superstar.
Join right in at the Celebration,
Spread the word across
The winner's here,
Stand and cheer,
He's Puttin' On The Ritz!