01/24/2018 12:29PM

Taylor brings smokin' hand to WCH

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Many horseplayers dream of turning their avocation into a vocation. In Mike Taylor’s life, he’s already done this once, though it was through his hobby of barbecue, not racing.

Taylor is known by many names, including his given name of Kenneth Taylor (as he appears on DRF Tournaments leaderboards), as well as “Bubba Mike” and simply “The Machine,” a reference to his recent tournament play. He turns 74 the week after the World Championship of Handicapping, and as he says, he’s “old enough to know better, but too young to resist.”

Taylor was a practicing attorney who retired just over a decade ago. He lives in Seminole, Fla., with his wife of more than 50 years. For much of his life, he honed his competitive instincts in the world of barbecue: smoking and grilling food. “With several friends, I judged BBQ competitions as a Certified Master Judge for the Kansas City Barbecue Society for several years until 1997, when we decided to compete,” he said. “Those who can, do; those who can’t, judge.”

Taylor enjoyed success. In his first and only year of competition his team won the super-competitive brisket category at the American Royal in Kansas City, the largest barbecue competition in the world. From there, he went into business, opening a barbecue joint in Columbus, Ohio, which has since expanded to more than 30 locations.

He came to racing later in life. “Five years ago my daughter was a guest of a friend who attended the Kentucky Derby and their suite was adjacent to Prince Albert,” he said. “She sent lots of texts, keeping us apprised of the fun she was having.”

Taylor decided he wanted to enjoy the Derby, too, though he did so at a local dog track instead of under the twin spires. “At the track we purchased a Daily Racing Form and made some bets,” he said. “I was lucky and had some winners as well as several tris and supers. They paid well and I knew I wanted more involvement.”

Through a Facebook group, "Homeless Handicappers," Taylor became friends with a number of racing enthusiasts.  “Soon several of us pooled our money and purchased a racehorse,” Taylor continued. “My interest in Metaboss was .02 percent. He was a great horse, but was injured in Kentucky training to run in the Derby.  After a year off, he was reinjured training in California to run in the Breeders Cup.”

But it was still a great experience to be involved, according to Taylor. In addition to discovering horse ownership, he also found out about handicapping contests. He has taken to them like brisket to hickory wood. “My wife loves my participation in the tournaments because it makes me use my brain, something that is important as I get older,” he said.

Taylor is a huge fan of the WCH. He is the only player to have qualified for the maximum allowed three seats at the online championship. He finds that the live contests on DRFT involve more strategy than the all-in events, and his third WCH qualification provided a perfect example.  “As we approached the final races of the contest, I was in a position to either win or drop below third,” he said. “Going ‘chalk’ was a risk since I could be caught from those a few dollars behind me.  Going for better odds was also risky, since I might not get even a place on a value horse.”

In the end, Taylor stuck with two mid-priced horses he liked and went runner-runner to close out the contest in style. Look for Taylor’s name on the leaderboard next weekend. If his history in barbecue is any indication, should he win the WCH, he may just hang out a shingle as a professional horseplayer.