12/26/2003 12:00AM

Headmaster in Bluegrass

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Joe Taylor, the famed former manager of Gainesway Farm and father of Taylor Made Farm's founders, left a long legacy of teaching when he died on Dec. 19 at age 79.

Taylor never went to college himself, but a lifetime of raising horses made him a professor to dozens of central Kentucky's horsemen. He was master of many subjects, as John Gaines, former owner of Gainesway, wrote in the foreword to Taylor's 1993 book, "Joe Taylor's Complete Guide to Breeding and Raising Racehorses."

"Joe is not only a complete horseman, but he is also an agronomist, builder, geneticist, caretaker, nutritionist, salesman, entrepreneur, executive, promoter, accountant, arborist, midwife, dealmaker, diplomat, and handyman," Gaines wrote. "Joe is truly a man for all seasons, but everyone who knows him understands that his real business is helping people, and that is why he wrote this book."

Taylor also spread his highly varied knowledge through the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club, where he was 1975's Farm Manager of the Year. Far from a parochial hardboot, Taylor blended some new methods of dealing with horses in his program, from surgical corrections for crooked legs to Monty Roberts's "gentling" techniques during early training. He could offer an opinion on buying a good gate latch, attracting the best barn staff, or picking the right stallion for a mare.

The biggest beneficiaries of Joe Taylor's horsemanship undoubtedly were his sons Duncan, Mark, Ben, and Frank, who built their Taylor Made Farm from a small mare-boarding operation into a full-fledged stallion station, nursery, and sales agency.

The farm has never lost its connection to Joe Taylor, who was an active consultant there after retiring from Gainesway in 1990. The horses there are raised and prepped for sale much the way Joe Taylor did it, and the knowledge is still passed along, thanks to the farm's 18-month internship program, which trains aspiring horsemen in Taylor-style management.

Call for political action

Kentucky breeders may soon plan their own day in the state capital, if John Sikura's idea takes hold.

Sikura, owner of Hill 'n' Dale farm, was one of about 20 breeders and consignors who attended a recent meeting at Keeneland to discuss the possibility of canceling the 2004 July yearling sale, an issue that has yet to be publicly resolved. The conversation veered onto the subject of Kentucky's upcoming legislative session and whether the slots issue might come up again, and Sikura made a suggestion: Why don't Kentucky's breeders plan a meeting en masse in Frankfort?

"To my pleasure, I think there was a lot of very positive conversation about it," Sikura said later. "There seems to be a feeling that the breeding industry is underrepresented in Frankfort with the people who make decisions and who, knowingly or unconsciously, affect our livelihoods. We have a lot to talk to them about: agribusiness, slots, how the Thoroughbred industry's health relates to the health of ancillary businesses in the area. None of us wants to see Kentucky be anything other than the center of the world in the horse business."

Sikura has suggested that farms owners, breeders, and industry-associated businesses like farriers and feed companies settle on a day to visit Frankfort and make themselves known to legislators.

"Five thousand people showing up with a smaller group of speakers to touch on three or four themes, that would have a big impact, especially with a new governor," he said.

Sikura said he made the suggestion partly to "issue a challenge to those charged with our representation to organize this and follow through. There are a lot of organizations that purport to represent our industry. If they take the time to canvass people and find out whether there's support for this, then I'm sure all of us would gather our own resources and be a part of such a presentation to the legislature. And I think there would be a big turnout."