Tennessee Walking horses - Midnight Mack K.
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SIRE of Champions 

Bred by Knial Kissee, Springfield, MO., MIDNIGHT MACK K. came to the Celebration as a two-year-old in 1949.  Ridden by Jimmy Waddell of Brownsville, Tennessee, the sorrel stallion astounded the crowd with his smoothness and power.  In the class for two year-olds,  there were so many horses present that entries could hardly manoeuver; however, of all the horses, MACK K. stood out so prominently, it was as if he were in the ring alone. 

In 1950, TALK OF THE TOWN won the Three Year-old Gelding Class and immediately became the new sensation of the breed.  Since these two horses, both out of MERRY BOY mares, were the same age, it was obvious that a new duel was taking shape. TALK OF THE TOWN was held out of the Junior Stake in 1950, and MACK K. won his fourth consecutive blue ribbon; however, during the next three Celebrations the two horses would battle for the glory of the World Grand Championship.

The stage was set for the first meeting between TALK OF THE TOWN and MIDNIGHT MACK K. during the preliminary classes of the 1951 Celebration.  TALK OF THE TOWN, ridden by Steve Hill, won the Aged Gelding Class handily by defeating TENNESSEE REBEL, HALL ALLEN'S PLAYBOY, and others of average quality. MIDNIGHT MACK K., ridden by Jack Slayden, won the stallion class over such formidable contenders as STERLING SILVER and OLD GLORY JR.  The Aged Mare class had been won by MIDNIGHT MERRY, the World Grand Champion of 1949. MIDNIGHT MERRY had defeated MIDNIGHT MYSTERY, considered by most observers to be a far superior mare to MIDNIGHT MERRY.  The Championship Stake promised to be one of the best. 

Neither TALK OF THE TOWN nor MIDNIGHT MACK K. had ever been defeated in Celebration competition at the time of their first meeting.  MACK K. had won five consecutive blues, and TALK OF THE TOWN had won two. When the Championship class was called, both horses entered the ring as if determined to win it all.  

MIDNIGHT MACK K. MIDNIGHT MACK K. was a big handsome stallion with his head high in the air and nodding with every step. When the winner's number was called, TALK OF THE TOWN was the new World Grand Champion.  MIDNIGHT MACK K. tasted defeat for the first time in his Celebration career by winning second.  The other winners in order were MIDNIGHT MYSTERY, TENNESSEE REBEL, MISTY MAID, MIDNIGHT FAIRY, ROSE CITY SUE, STERLING SILVER, DAVID COPPERFIELD, and MERRY LOU WILSON.

There are usually behind the  scene circumstances that influence such Championship Stakes.  According to Wallace Brandon who was working at Jack Slayden's stable that night, such circumstances were operative. Brandon describes the bay gelding in the following way:

"TALK OF THE TOWN was the most exciting thing I ever saw in my life... I think he changed the whole industry. We changed right there at the Celebration with TALK OF THE TOWN and we went this new way. But on this particular night in 1951, Wallace was, of course, pulling for MIDNIGHT MACK K. As he remembers it, "

Well, I've seen them all, and I don't know which stands out. One that I can relate to was when Jack Slayden showed MIDNIGHT MACK and Steve Hill showed TALK OF THE TOWN. It was the first year TALK OF THE TOWN won the Celebration. It looked like Jack was an odds on favorite and the money there used to be a lot of betting going on ? the money was on Jack's side... This certain man was betting money on the class, and a runner came up and said, "I need some money. I need some money."

The runner was asked, "Have you looked out in the ring lately at the workout?"
The runner said "No."
He was told, "Jack is not only cantering when he should be doing a running walk, but he's cantering on the wrong lead."

Jack had done the worst thing anybody ever did in his life.  The man would take a little whiskey to settled his nerves, but this night he entered the ring without taking a drop.  He was probably the most nervous man in the world.  MACK K hadn't been well before we came to the Celebration.  Jack gave him four quarter-grains of strychnine along with whiskey, and he tightened the chin strap tighter than he had ever had it in his life.  All the while, Jack was a complete nervous wreck.  All he had to do was go in there and do three good gaits and do them right -  just let the horse do what he could do.  The decision was in concrete. But he went in the ring, and as he went through the gate, he reached and hit old MACK K with that whip, and he started jumping and running.  And he jumped all night long 'til about the last rounds.

MIDNIGHT MACK K. was sold following the 1951 Celebration.  Raymond Rebsman sold the chestnut stallion to Joe Jennings of North Carolina for $25,000, and the trainer changed from Jack Slayden of Mississippi to Joe Urquhart of North Carolina.  Urquhart, like most trainers from other states, found the going rough in Middle Tennessee and honed MACK K. to a fine edge during the summer of 1952.  

Neither MIDNIGHT MACK K. nor TALK OF THE TOWN could afford to concentrate too heavily on the other; the field was much too strong for that.  OLD GLORY'S BIG MAN resumed his winning ways by defeating MACK K. in the stallion class.  TALK OF THE TOWN successfully defended his title against the field on the final night of the show, beating BIG MAN in second place and MACK K. in third. 

Midnight Mack K., 1951 Four Year Old World Champion

With BIG MAN out of the picture, the limelight settled again on MACK K. and TALK OF THE TOWN.  TALK OF THE TOWN beat OKLAHOMA GYPSY for the gelding honors. MACK K. went down to defeat before SUN'S GO BOY in the stallion class.  Nevertheless many observers still believed the championship would be between MACK K. and TALK OF THE TOWN.  Regardless of the defeats MACK K. had suffered during the two previous Celebrations, he was still considered a horse obviously of the quality to take the Championship.  By almost any standard applied to him, the sorrel stallion measured up to the best the breed had produced.

Like most duels staged at the Celebration, there was a human story behind the horses involved. Steve Hill had watched Jimmy Waddell win the two-year-old class on MACK K. in 1949, and immediately recognized the horse's greatness.  Later, Hill attempted to purchase MACK K. after he had been moved to Mississippi.  MACK K'S handlers refused $10,000 for him.  After all efforts had failed led to buy MACK K., Hill remarked to the handler, "OK, we'll go buy one for $250 and meet you at the Celebration."  This is almost what happened. Jim Crain of Wilson, Arkansas, bought TALK OF THE TOWN for $200 in the C. G. Smith sale at Blytheville, Arkansas. During the following winter Steve Hill purchased half-interest in the horse and began training him. It proved a profitable deal for all concerned.

As the Stake Class approached in 1953, Celebration spectators sensed that it would be the last meeting between TALK OF THE TOWN and MIDNIGHT MACK K. They had dueled each other in Baton Rouge, Kansas City, and the Celebration. They had never failed to thrill the crowd with their spectacular performances. The last chapter in their saga would be no exception.

The first heat of the Championship class progressed as expected.  Both TALK OF THE TOWN and MACK K. were in excellent form.  While both horses were obviously the outstanding entries in the ring, neither was ridden to its full potential.  Both Urquhart and Hill were seasoned Celebration competitors, and both knew a work-out lay ahead. When the work-out was called, TALK OF THE TOWN was left on the grass, which meant MIDNIGHT MACK K. and SUN'S GO BOY were put on the rail in a flat-walk.

Soon the running walk was called, and a gruelling work-out to the left way of the ring ensued.  Eventually, the horses were halted and ordered to reverse.  At this moment TALK OF THE TOWN was called from the grass to re-enter competition.  Why this unusual procedure was followed has never been explained.  The rest TALK OF THE TOWN enjoyed, while his competitors worked the left way of the ring, proved an added edge in the final moments of the class.  Although the decision proved unpopular with many spectators, TALK OF THE TOWN became the only horse in Celebration history to win the Grand Championship three times.  He retired from Celebration competition undefeated, with seven straight blue ribbons to his credit. 

MACK K. ended his Celebration career the following year with one of the most outstanding records ever made in that classic event.  Although he was denied the ultimate goal of all Show Walking  horses, MACK K. is still accepted by most Celebration fans as the best horse ever shown in Celebration competition that did not win the Grand Championship.  Certainly, MACK K. is accepted by many authorities to have been a better horse than most that did win the coveted title. 

If the Grand Championship escaped MACK K., other honors did not.  He won the Stake at Baton Rouge four years in a row, and in later years two of his sons, RODGERS' PERFECTION and MACK K'S HANDSHAKER, retrieved their sire's lost glory by becoming World Grand Champions at the Celebration.  Subsequently, both these sons of MACK K. sired offspring that also won the Grand Championship.

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Last Updated: March 27, 2017
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