12/20/2003 12:00AM

Kentucky horseman Taylor dies

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Joe Taylor, the legendary horseman whose children founded Taylor Made Farm and sales agency, died at about 5:30 p.m. Friday in a car wreck during heavy snow fall on Tates Creek Pike near the farm. He was 79.

Taylor grew up on a farm in Lawrenceburg, Ky., where his father raised Standardbreds, and decided early on to make horses his career. Forgoing college in favor of learning the horse business from the ground up, Taylor spent his early years in racing at the harness track before applying to Gainesway Farm owner Clarence Gaines for a job in 1952. He stayed at Gainesway for more than 30 years, during which time the farm moved from one of the dominant trotting-horse stables to a prominent commercial Thoroughbred operation.

Under Taylor's management, Gainesway made the switch to Thoroughbred breeding in 1962 and soon became an international force in the industry. Five of the farm's stallions topped sire rankings in North America, England, and Europe during Taylor's tenure. A former president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club, Taylor was named the organization's farm manager of the year for 1975.

In 1993, by which point Taylor had retired to serve as a consultant for his children's Taylor Made Farm, he wrote a book that quickly became a classic among Thoroughbred breeders, "A Complete Guide to Breeding and Raising Race Horses."

Taylor's children were raised at Gainesway, where they helped in the breeding shed, prepared yearlings for auctions, and learned to break young stock - all activities that became client services when they opened their own farm.

Taylor's oldest son, Duncan, founded Taylor Made near Nicholasville, Ky., in 1976 at age 19. The farm now is managed by all of Taylor's sons - Duncan, Ben, Frank, and Mark - and his daughter, Emily, who manages the farm's internationally known internship program.

In addition to his children, Taylor is survived by his wife, Mary Emily, and numerous grandchildren. Visitation was scheduled for Sunday at Lexington's Christ the King Cathedral from 4-8 p.m. A vigil service was to be held at the cathedral on Monday at 6:15 p.m., with a second visitation from 6:30 to 9. The funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at Christ the King. The family requests donations be made to the Perpetual Adoration Fund for Christ the King Cathedral in lieu of flowers.