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.
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
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. 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,
ROSE CITY SUE,
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 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
MACK K. nor TALK OF THE TOWN could afford to concentrate too heavily
on the other; the field was much too strong for that.
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.
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
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
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
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,
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.