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Keeneland September: Q&A with Duncan Taylor
To say it’s been a big year for the Taylor Made operation would be putting it mildly.
Over the past eight months, the Nicholasville, Ky., operation has seen sales graduate American Pharoah win the Triple Crown, purchased a minority stake in dual classic winner California Chrome with plans to stand him at the farm upon his retirement, sold yearlings from the final crop of late cornerstone sire Unbridled’s Song, and led all consignors at the Keeneland January sale of horses of all ages by gross receipts.
As historic as the year has been, though, the busiest times are yet to come.
Taylor Made Sales Agency has 411 horses cataloged in this year’s Keeneland September yearling sale and will once again be a top contender to lead all consignors by gross receipts – a feat the company has accomplished 16 times since 1988 and in eight of the last 10 years.
Duncan Taylor oversees the family-run Taylor Made operation as its president and chief executive, a position he has held since founding the company as a boarding operation in 1976 at age 19. He was eventually joined by brothers Ben, Frank, and Mark, who each became vice presidents of the farm’s various interests, along with longtime friend Pat Payne, to expand into one of the industry’s leading sales, boarding, and stallion operations.
DRF Breeding sales editor Joe Nevills spoke with Duncan Taylor in mid-August about the upcoming sale, Taylor’s philosophies, and his historic year.
What do you do to prepare for the long grind of Keeneland September?
“What I need to do is get on a treadmill and go for about 40 minutes a day. [Laughs] I think just being prepared and having your information and having your people well trained and knowing what to do is the best thing.
“It’s very intense, and you’re anxious from the day you move in through the first day because it’s not just the work you have to do, it’s the uncertainty of ‘will the market be what I want it to be this time around?’ Once you get through that first day, it turns into a grind, but when you get to after the weekend, you’re tired, but you sort of get a second wind.”
What makes California Chrome an attractive stallion prospect?
“It’s very seldom in today’s age that you can get a horse that can start 18 times in 23 months and still be sound, so you’ve got to love that about the horse. The horse won four Grade 1s – the [Kentucky] Derby, the Preakness, the Santa Anita Derby, one on the grass [the Hollywood Derby], and ran the lowest Ragozin of any horse in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“When you look at the pedigree, his dam [Love the Chase] is inbred to Numbered Account [3x3], and she was a champion 2-year-old who won 8 of 10 starts at 2. She is the kind of filly that someone would dream about, and of course, she’s the dam of [multiple Grade 1 winner and leading sire] Private Account. She’s got that stallion genetics – Woodman’s from the same family, and Super Saver.
“Seattle Slew was linebred in his female family to Baby League [5x5 on the dam’s side]. Looking at Seattle Slew’s best son, A.P. Indy [great-grandsire of California Chrome], he was linebred to Somethingroyal [the dam of Secretariat, 3x5] in his female family.
“If you look at California Chrome, he’s linebred to Numbered Account in the female family and is from the same sire line [as Seattle Slew and A.P. Indy]. Numbered Account goes back to Intriguing and to Glamour. Baby League goes [forward] to Striking, Glamour, and Poker [the broodmare sire of Seattle Slew].
“The fourth dam of Numbered Account is Baby League, so if you look at the top of California Chrome’s pedigree, you have Seattle Slew, who has the same linebreeding in the dam, so you’re stacking that Baby League genetics, and Baby League’s mother is La Troienne, so basically, California Chrome has seven strains of La Troienne in his pedigree. That’s something I’ve always loved, and that gives him a great chance at being a stallion.”
California Chrome brings with him a unique set of fans who have been vocal in criticizing his human connections. How has Taylor Made handled those fans, and what is your philosophy on balancing public and private matters with a high-profile horse?
“People feel very strongly about what they’re emotionally attached to. I would prefer that they wouldn’t be so harsh on the ownership of the horse. I’m a horseman, and I don’t think anybody has done anything that is that outlandishly foolish. I think it’s very sporting for Perry Martin to want to go to England and run him.
“I’d like to give those guys credit. They invested their money, they own the horse. If you own the horse and pay all your bills, you can do whatever you want with the horse. As far as the people who are all invested and screaming and griping, I thank the Lord for them, too, because it shows the business does have fans, and fans that care. If you listen to every New York Yankees fan and everything they might say when they got irritated about something [late owner George] Steinbrenner did and you put them all in a line, you’d probably hear some stuff you thought was crazy, too.
“People were saying we ought to put something online because they all want to see him, so we started putting up pictures to make fans happy. The people enjoyed it, and we want them to be able to enjoy the horse because thank God they’re out there. Every person that’s interested in California Chrome when he goes back on the track is a reason someone’s going to pay the horse business a sponsorship. We need everybody we can to stay interested in Thoroughbred racing.
“Since I’m not a social-media guru, it’s been a learning curve for me. I’ve learned a lot in the last three weeks.”
Describe the feeling of seeing American Pharoah, a graduate of your consignment, win the Triple Crown.
“You just never know where the [next great] horse is coming from. I’ve had a thousand people ask me, ‘Did you know?’ And I tell people that we didn’t grade him as the very best horse on the farm, but he was in the top 20 percent. In our grading, very, very few get an A. He was just a very solid, good-looking horse. If you could be a breeder and know you’re going to get all B-pluses, you’d be the happiest person in the world.
“It’s been great for the whole industry and for the team’s morale. You’re out here every day working, and to say, ‘I was on the farm, and I saw the horse, and I was around him,’ that’s what it’s all about. You’re in it every day hoping you’re going to see a great horse.”
How would you describe the impact Unbridled’s Song has had on the Taylor Made operation?
“He just changed everything for us. He was brilliant, he was good-looking, and he was what everybody wanted. His best sons are starting their careers as stallions right now, and I’m hoping one can take his place. It’s unquestionable what his fillies are doing, but he hasn’t had [a son] that was like himself. Right now, you have Cross Traffic, you have Graydar, you have Will Take Charge, and you have Liam’s Map, so you’ve got four there that are going to get very good chances at stud, and hopefully one of those guys will be the heir to the throne.”
Taylor Made has a distinctive look on the sales grounds, particularly in the uniforms employees wear, including management. What inspired the look and feel of the Taylor Made sale barn?
“We were looking for something to make us different, and that’s where the tie came in. It became a recognizable image that’s a differentiator, and the competitors definitely don’t want to do it because it’s uncomfortable. It’s not fun, but it looks good. It makes you look businesslike.
“For us to wear the same thing, I’m a believer that if you’re going to ask somebody else to do something, you ought to be able to do it.
“There’s also the marketing angle from it. I get irritated by salespeople if they’re up at the ring and they don’t have something that indicates ‘Taylor Made’ because people are looking to ask people questions about the horses, and if you don’t have yourself identified as ‘Taylor Made,’ they don’t know who you are. There’s new people coming in all the time, you have the Taylor Made look so if anybody’s trying to find something, they know to go to you.”