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--- California Harness Racing History ---
Life Begins at Eighty

They Doubted That Bill Taylor Would Be Able to Beat Death Let 41one Get Back to Driving and Winning Races

Bill photoTHIRTEEN from 79 leaves 66, doesn't it? I mean, I'm not too hot on arithmatic, but that's the way I get it. O.K.—granting I'm right so far, maybe I'm right in this statement, too: There is only one sport in the world in which a man can hold his own in first class competition over a period of 66 years.

I'll go even further—can not only hold his own, but make a living out of it, and have a barrel of fun in the bargain. If I'm wrong stop me, but the sport I have in mind is light harness racing. Where else in creation do you find a game with such widespread appeal? Nine to 80—men, women, and children—they can, and do, compete in and enjoy it until the final score is called.

As witness whereof I want to tell you about a little old gentleman we've got out here in California who, at the age of 79, was telling me the other day about the colts he plans to break and train next year! A man who last winter was in a hospital undergoing a series of major operations, the doctors none too sure that he would ever get out except in a pine box, and who this summer is once more the leading driver on the Western Fair Circuit. Yeah—I'm talking about William B. "Bill" Taylor, the little fellow with the sharp beak and the bright blue eyes and the master hands, who lives today in his 80th year, rising at 5:30 in the morning, training and racing a large public stable, supervising the activities of 12 men, successfully conducting a highly competitive business—and, more important, deeply living life and looking and planning for the future. "Dying?" Bill Taylor says—I don't have time to think about that—too much to do—too much fun in doing it. Why, even when those doctors had me washed up last winter, I wasn't worried. I was too busy planning what I had to do with Simon Pure, Lord Blake, just Marie, Mighty Morris, and the others, to get 'em. ready for the summer racing season. When the medics finally let me out they said a camp chair in the shed row, or a seat in the grandstand, was the best I could expectbut I knew different—I knew I'd be driving again." And drive again he did, to confound not only the does, but his closest friends. It was, and is, one of the most remarkable comebacks in sports history. He's not only driving, but he's better than be was at 78. He led the Golden Gate and Del Mar meetings by a wide margin, and he held his own in the first flight at Santa Rosa, San Mateo, Stockton, and the State Fair at Sacramento. His cool judgement, his perfect timing, his consumate skill in handling all types of horses, are in no way impaired.

Bill Taylor was born in Midway, Kentucky. The horse was truly king down there. His mother was a Harper—remember them? They owned and raced both Longfellow and Ten Broek on the turf. "Yes," he'll tell you, "I was a jock first—used to gallop Longfellow." In 1883 the Taylors moved to Missouri. Young Bill was 13 then, and a sickly kid. The family had about given up hope of getting him on his feet, but they figured if he was going to, the best way would be the open air life with horses. They gave him an old trotter called Bert Herr. "That horse saved my life," he told me, "and he sold me on the driving game for keeps. No more runners for me. I don't think that game compares with this. I trained old Bert Herr and raced him. Finally built my own track down on the farm in Missouri, I ate and slept and lived with that horse until I was well again. I had the bug then, for sure. Stole a horse out of my Pop's barn one night and drove him 30 miles to race him the next day and win with him. Got a mare called Blanche B., the first really good one I ever had, and won 13 out of 17 starts with her. I was in business." The business has been an impressive one in the case of Bill Taylor ever since.

He has raced some of the best that ever looked through bridles. He drove Peter Manning to his world's half‑mile track record of 2:021/4 back in 1927. In 1906 he owned Early Alice and a colt by the name of Spill, these two earning in excess of $40,000 for Taylor in the days when purses were thin pickings. Spill was the first harness horse to win 50 races, and Early Alice hung up a record of 2:081/4 on a half‑mile track. In more recent years, since coming to California in 1936, Bill Taylor has made western racing history. In 1937 be drove Buddy Maxey over the Stockton course in 1: 593/4, a pacing record which still stands in the Golden State. just I I years after that, over the same historic Stockton oval, he sent Full Bloom against the fence in 1:584/5, the fastest of all western miles, with the exception of Rodney's 1:58 flat made the same year at Santa Anita. Other good ones which Taylor has tooled would be too numerous to mention here. There's never a season comes up in which he doesn't have a few good prospects coming along. He's known the racing world over as a master hand at bringing a horse up to his best. He took Full Bloom when all others had despaired of her, when as a six‑year‑old she was nothing but a bundle of nerves, and in two years he made her the fastest trotting mare in America. "What makes a good driver?" you ask him. "Well," he'll tell you, "a cool head, patience, kindness, understanding, light hands. You've got to learn to take it easy in this business—learn to wait with 'em, and move at the right time . . . that goes for racing or training. Study balance as related to the individual gait. Be able to hold 'em together." The greatest horses and drivers he has ever known? "No argument on Greyhound's greatness," he says, "but for my part I always liked Uhlan. Conformation, gait, manners, performance—I think he topped 'em all, at least of those I've seen. He set records to two‑wheel sulkies or four‑wheel carts—amateurs or professionals driving, it made no difference. I believe Lou Dillon ranks at the top among the mares." Those remarks are particularly gratifying to Californians, since Lou Dillon was a native daughter, and Uhlan became an adopted son. Both lie buried today in Santa Barbara, California. Among the drivers he has known and raced against Taylor puts "Pop" Geers, Sep Palin, and Fred Egan at the head of the list. One wonders, in looking back, if Bill Taylor himself might not stand unafraid in that select company ... Maybe the next few years will prove it beyond all doubt . . . Here's hoping, Bill ...
Bill Taylor

BILL TAYLOR pilots Full Bloom to one of her many 1948 victories that was climaxed by a tilt against the watch in 1:58%. Here he's winning from Scott's Guard, Jake Rodman aboard, in 2:02