05/31/2017 3:16PM

Hovdey: Taylor and family have had other good years, too

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Goodyearforroses (4) tries hard by just can't keep up with Lady Eli in the Gamely.

Tom Taylor was leaning hard out of the clubhouse box and cheering his face blue as Goodyearforroses took it to Lady Eli at the top of the stretch in last weekend’s Grade 1 Gamely. For a giddy few strides, ‘Roses’ and Corey Nakatani appeared ready to collar Irad Ortiz Jr. and Lady Eli. But then, through a last, furious eighth of a mile, Lady Eli dug in to reach the line half a length to the good.

Drained, Taylor and his party congratulated each other on the performance of their mare, who had just shaded 12 seconds during a final furlong against an opponent of consummate quality. It was the kind of defeat that felt better as the day wore on, except for when thoughts inevitably turned to what might have been.

Taylor had been there before, although not for a long, long time. As part of the Medallion Racing investment group – which holds a minority stake in Goodyearforroses and several other current runners – the son of trainer J. Thomas Taylor Sr. has brought a rich history of his own to a world that filled his earliest memories.

Taylor’s father, known as Tommy, was a respected horseman in all corners of the U.S. racing world. He saddled Victorian to win the 1930 running of the $100,000 Agua Caliente Handicap, richest race in the world at the time, but his best known runner was Head Play, winner of the 1933 Preakness.

Thomas Hayes trained Head Play as a 3-year-old, while Taylor took over for a West Coast campaign at racing’s new Xanadu, being built by Dr. Charles H. Strub.

“In 1933, Doc Strub went back to New York and introduced himself to my father,” Tom Taylor said this week. “He said, ‘I’m told you’re the one who can introduce me to owners and trainers, because I’m opening a track called Santa Anita next year.’ ”

Santa Anita opened on Christmas Day, 1934. Head Play, trained by Tommy Taylor, won the first running of the San Antonio Stakes and later added the San Juan Capistrano. In between he was one of 20 runners in the first running of the $100,000 Santa Anita Handicap, finishing in midpack behind the victorious Azucar.

So grateful was Strub for Taylor’s help in spreading the word about Santa Anita that he made him an offer seemingly impossible to refuse.

“He told my dad to tell him what barn he wanted, what box he wanted, and how many racetrack shares he wanted,” Taylor said. “Dad said, ‘I’ll take barn 17 and box number 227, but you can keep your damn stock.’ He’d been through the crash and the Depression, so the stock market kind of turned him off. Later, he turned his box over to his good friend Charlie Whittingham. I don’t want to think what the stock would have been worth.”

Taylor taps into such juicy recollections with delightful ease. Things got very real, however, in the summer of 1956 when he was working as his father’s assistant in California.

“Dad got hit by a car going back to Keeneland for the yearling sale,” Taylor said. “I was left with getting Prince Khaled ready for the Del Mar Futurity. Johnny Longden took off our horse to ride Mr. Sam S. for Bill Molter, and I always thought it was because I was just out of the Air Force and a 26-year-old unknown, and he figured I could never get him ready.

“I talked to dad every night,” Taylor said. “I did everything he told me to do, plus one other thing. Prince Khaled was a big 2-year-old, so I galloped him two miles every fourth day. He ended up setting a world record in the Futurity for a 2-year-old around one turn.”

Prince Khaled won by 3 1/2 lengths over Swirling Abbey, with Longden’s horse eight lengths farther back in third. As the beaming young Taylor descended to the winner’s circle that golden afternoon, the inquiry sign ignited.

“Longden claimed foul on our jock, Ralph Neves, for tightening things up on the far turn,” Taylor said. “They took us down, put us third, and the place went wild. They were throwing beer cans onto the track. Longden and Neves got into a fist fight going back to the jocks’ room.”

Soon after, Taylor’s father returned to work, while his son “retired” from the track.

“I went into the Merrill Lynch program after that,” Taylor said. “After my father turned down that Santa Anita stock, I thought maybe I ought to be a stock broker.”

Taylor’s involvement in Medallion Racing should come as no surprise, since he is a second cousin to the Taylor brothers of Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky. Marshall Taylor, son of Taylor Made president and CEO Duncan Taylor, runs the Medallion arm of the operation. In addition to her Gamely effort, Goodyearforroses has won the Grade 2 Santa Ana and two listed stakes for the partnership, led by Abbondanza Racing of Bing Bush and Nathan McCauley. Richard Baltas is her trainer.

“It’s a great program, and we’ve had a lot of good fortune so far,” Taylor said. “With a mare like Goodyearforroses, you can dream of things like the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar. I can’t take much credit, though. I’m just enjoying being on the coattails of a great ride.”