By Sadie Fowler

Going into the coveted World Grand Championship class Saturday night, Sept. 1, the field was somewhat wide-open for contenders riding for the biggest prize of the show. The preliminaries had given several horses a chance to shine, a few surprises emerged, and the judges were spread out with their opinions throughout the week, as was the crowd, demonstrating stiff competition.

When it came down to the wire, following a workout for all eight entries, one horse threw a shoe and another rider lost a stirrup, further delaying the anticipation of what would happen next. Following the workout, showmanship became the name of the game as riders had just one more quick chance to showcase their horses on the rail before the lineup was called.

It was at this point, many say, that the class was won. Gen A’Mighty, a six-year-old stallion by Gen’s Black Gin and out of Encore’s Magic Lady (by Pride’s Jubilee Encore) had been precise, powerful, persistent and consistent throughout the class, and paired with the master showmanship skills of Jimmy McConnell, fate was sealed. Stories will forever be shared of how McConnell waited for all the others to lineup on the south end before making his final pass down the stretch of the ring and into the line-up with Gen A’Mighty.

“I knew my horse was making a good show; he was doing his part,” said McConnell, reflecting on the class. “Of course, I couldn’t see what the others were doing, but I knew he was doing his job … I just went for it. You know, I don’t like to lose. I knew the horse was great, but it’s just a guessing game when you’re in the line-up. I was against a lot of great professionals who also know what they’re doing … Winning against all those guys was just amazing.” 

McConnell became only the second rider in walking horse history to have earned four World Grand Championships in the big stake, having won his first in 2004 with The Black Night Shade. He shares this legendary accomplishment with only Billy Gray.

McConnell’s second World Grand Championship came in 2007 with Master Of Jazz, with the third in 2009 with Watch It Now.

“It took me a long time to win that first one,” laughed McConnell. “It was just amazing … It’s a phenomenal feeling.” He added that the fourth win was just as exciting as the first win in 2004. “Winning that class … It’s just a feeling that never changes.”

Shortly following the win, McConnell reflected on the incredibly intense moments from the class, all which culminated with him earning a set of roses for an owner he described as being great to work for — a very nice and humble man. “The horse was doing his job,” he said. “I knew he had done all he could do.”

He made a reserve finish in the preliminary class in the A section on the first Saturday night, with only two other performances this year, finishing up third at the Trainers’ Show before winning at Columbia, where they showed for their last time before the Celebration.

Before his big win at the 2018 Celebration, Gen A’Mighty has put in consistent performances his entire career, many times finishing in the top ranks, including reserve world championships in his age bracket as a two and three-year-old in the preliminary rounds at the 2014 and 2015 Celebrations, with trainers Mike Hannah and Charlie Green up, respectively.

Currently owned by Mike Floyd of Columbia, Tennessee, Gen A’Mighty is a coming seven-year-old that’s been in training under the Formac banner for about two years. Formerly owned by the late Dr. Vinson, Floyd scooped him up during a visit to Edgar Abernathy’s, where he had gone to look at a different colt.

“But he bought Gennie Boo instead,” said Amy Rich, Floyd’s niece and one of the horse’s biggest fans. “We said the other night that Dr. Vinson must have been looking down from Heaven. My uncle Mike said he knew it was the Lord’s plan for him to own that horse … It was just an incredible moment when they called his number — I about jumped out of my seat.”

Rich says it was a superb partnership of McConnell’s skill as a trainer along with Floyd’s faith in Gen A’Mighty, that made the win so sweet. Floyd and Rich said McConnell is a great trainer who loves the horse as if it was his own. In fact, upon purchasing Gen A’Mighty, and after McConnell moved here from Union City, the family knew right away their new horse had to be with McConnell and set out to make that happen.

“Jimmy kept saying all week he was going to win it, but we knew it could have gone any number of ways,” Rich said. “Before the class, I gave him a silver dollar my granddad, who passed away, had given me. I told him ‘good luck’ … I can’t speak highly enough of Jimmy. He really wanted to win that class, and he does not like to lose.”

Rich said they are all still experiencing the post-Celebration fogginess, still feeling surreal about the win. Residents of Columbia, Rich said their hometown has been home to several great walking horses over the years and has really made a big deal out of the prestigious victory. McConnell is going to exhibit him to the local Maury County public Sept. 20.

“He’s just like the little horse who never gives up,” Rich said. “We’ve done a lot with horses over the years and we just knew how special he was. He’s a people pleaser who doesn’t quit. He’s got a heart, and I think he proved that the other night. We just love him dearly.”

Shane Shiflet, Celebration photographer, called the horse the Secretariat of the Walking Horse industry for his love of the camera and showing off.

“He just never gave up, none of us did,” Rich said. “I think out of everything, what was the most special part of it all for me, what I’m most proud of, is that my uncle finally got what he wanted more than anything … a really great horse. He always had faith in Gen A’Mighty.”

Still on cloud nine, the family said they celebrated the monumental victory until the wee hours of Sunday morning. Then, the phones started ringing and they still haven’t stopped.

“It’s been a whirlwind, but a really, really great feeling,” Rich said.