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Racing Future Celebrates E. P. Taylor

On August 15th, 1958 a Canadian entrepreneur with a passion for horse racing made a momentous decision: he spent $35,000 on a yearling filly at the annual Saratoga sale.  The horse he bought did not have a long and stellar racing career, only racing 7 times before a bone chip in her knee forced her retirement. However, her purchase was a fortuitous one for horse racing because this horse was Natalma, the dam of one of – if not the – greatest Thoroughbred stallions in history, Northern Dancer. The man who made the purchase decision was E.P. Taylor.

E P TaylorCanadian Visionary

At the Canadian Business Hall of Fame, Edward Plunkett “E.P.” Taylor’s biography ends with the words,

“the nature of the man was that he could always see what most of us couldn’t.”  

This description sums up E.P. Taylor perfectly.  While he was undoubtedly one of the greatest business minds in Canadian history, Taylor was equally as visionary in every aspect of his life. Nowhere is this more evident than in his approach to Thoroughbred horse racing and breeding where his global legacy is so great, it is challenging to describe and impossible to quantify.

Born in Ottawa, Ontario on January 29th 1901 Taylor studied engineering at McGill University and, after graduation in 1923, he joined the firm of McLeod Weir.  Beginning in 1930, through a series of strategic mergers and acquisitions, Taylor formed Canadian Breweries Ltd.

After War broke out, Taylor was appointed to the executive committee of the Dept of Munitions and Supply by C.D. Howe.  Simultaneously, he was also a deputy for Howe on the Anglo-American-Canadian Combined Production and Resources Board.

In the mid-1940s, Taylor began to build what would become Argus Corporation, which at its height was one of Canada’s most powerful corporate entities. The company’s holdings included Canadian Breweries Ltd, Dominion Stores, Hollinger Mines, Domtar and Massey-Ferguson. While some may have thought (and think now) that Taylor was solely driven to create wealth for himself, Taylor himself  once remarked,

''People don't understand that the principal motivation is not money. I do something that is constructive. There are people who like to paint or garden. I like to create things.'' 

During the 1930s as he was building Canadian Breweries and later while creating Argus, Taylor was also beginning to make forays into a world he had become interested in while a university student: Thoroughbred horse racing.  While he and fellow brewer Jim Cosgrave built a small stable of race horses during this time it wasn’t until after the War that Taylor’s interest in horse racing began to having far reaching effects.

Invited to join the Ontario Jockey Club 1947, Taylor began to grow his horse racing interests to include Col Sam McLaughlin’s Parkwood Stables in Oshawa. With this purchase, he began a buying program that included a number of high quality horses with whom he took a visionary approach to breeding and sales. 

Windfields and the Queen's Plate

His approach was so successful that between 1949 and 1953, 5 of his horses won Canada’s most illustrious stakes race, the Queen’s Plate.Windfields Farm, Oshawa, Ontario

Taylor’s acquisition of Parkwood was not without challenges but his approach to this, as in his other interests, brought success in the end. The result – Windfields Farm – is a testament to another piece of Taylor’s character, which is best captured by award-winner racing author and Taylor biographer, Muriel Lennox who notes,

Once [Taylor} made a commitment, however, he never looked back, even though experience told him that everything cost more, took longer, and was much more challenging than he had thought in the beginning. Buoyed by an unwavering faith in his ability to sell whatever it was he had created, he simply refused to quit.[1]

Taylor also demonstrated this refuse-to-quit trait in his approach to the state of Ontario horse racing, which at the time, was in desperate shape. As he recalled to Lennox,

“I was actually afraid that racing here might die right out. The tracks and stabling were in very bad shape. The buildings were falling down and could easily have been labelled firetraps.”[2]

Racetrack Management

By the mid-1950s, his efforts had paid off and the new Ontario circuit hosted almost 200 Thoroughbred racing days per year. In addition, through the amalgamation effort, Taylor was central in the development of Canada’s Triple Crown circuit which combined the Queen’s Plate, the Prince Wales and the Breeder’s Stakes and took horses and their connections from Woodbine to Fort Erie and back. Of his great ability at racetrack management, Taylor’s son Charles aptly noted,In 1947 he was elected as a Director to the Ontario Jockey Club and, with his knowledge of what was then called Ontario’s “leaky roof circuit,” he refused to quit. Instead, he took a practical yet entrepreneurial approach and began a plan of mergers and acquisitions of tracks and racing licenses.

“He was a pioneer in this field and was instrumental in establishing Sunday racing, turf races, emphasizing the importance of stakes races for fillies and mares and a comprehensive stakes schedule patterned on the English program of classic racing.”[3]

E P Taylor with Northern Dancer & Bill Hartack in the Winner's Circle at the 1964 Kentucky DerbyNorthern Dancer

Of course, in addition to his contributions to the Canadian racing industry, Taylor is also known around the world for his enormous contributions to the Thoroughbred breed. Much of this fame originates with his best known “homebred,” Northern Dancer who was born in 1961 at Taylor’s Windfields Farm in Oshawa.

Although Northern Dancer was born in 1961, his story really begins with a crucial decision Taylor made almost a decade earlier. 

Through his representative at the annual British bloodstock sales of 1952, Taylor acquired the 8 year old mare, Lady Angela who was in foal to the Italian sire, Nearco. Born in Oshawa a year later, Lady Angela’s foal Nearctic, offered at a $35,000 reserve but unsold as a yearling, would go on to become the cornerstone of Windfields and Taylor’s horse racing legacy. Nearctic won 21 races during his career and his first foal crop produced “the great little colt,” Northern Dancer. 

Taylor’s visionary breeding strategy including offering virtually all of his yearlings for sale each year. In this way, his horses would go on to careers outside of Canada, spreading the Windfields’ brand and promoting Canada as a world class racing jurisdiction. As it happened, he offered Northern Dancer for sale as a yearling at $25,000 but there were no buyers so he decided to keep the small, unruly colt and put him into training. Fortuitously, he also elected against gelding when there were complaints about the colt’s challenging personality and behaviour while under training.  

Under the guidance of trainer Horatio Luro, the Dancer had a short but illustrious racing career. Of 18 starts, he won 14 including the Florida Derby, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Queen’s Plate.

After winning the Kentucky Derby in a record time not matched until Secretariat’s run almost 10 years later, Northern Dancer’s career came to a close not far from where he was born and at the Canadian race track envisioned and created by his breeder.

At stud the Dancer was one of the best Thoroughbred stallions in history.  Of the 635 foals he sired, 511 went on to racing careers. Four hundred and ten were winners and 147 were stakes winners. Twenty six of his stakes race winning progeny became racing champions in England, Ireland, France, Italy, the US and Canada. Just how many of the top Thoroughbreds alive today are related to Northern Dancer? Most experts would agree that this number is between 60 and 80%. In virtually every stakes race around the world, there are runners who can trace their ancestry back to Northern Dancer. 

E. P. Taylor's Legacy

E.P. Taylor’s legacy is that he truly was able to envision what others could not and he never gave up. The career and impact of “the little colt that could” proves this. Taylor's legacy is as much about the stamina, athletic ability, and challenging personality of the great Northern Dancer as it is about the vision, perseverance, and creativity of the man who bred him.  And, through Northern Dancer’s many great modern descendants such as Black Caviar, Frankel, Curlin and many others we see E. P. Taylor’s vision come to its ultimate fruition and the result is often breathtaking.




[1] Northern Dancer: The Legend and his Legacy by Muriel Lennox (Toronto: Beach House Books, 1995), p. 26.

[2] Lennox, p. 24.

 

Comments

One of the great leaders that I had the opportunity to serve!

By Dennis Mills

My mom use to tell me stories about him when I was a child many moons ago. She had nothing but good things to say!

By James Mitchell

I can remember EP and Jack Stafford having breakfast in the kitchen sitting amongst the exercise boys, the grooms , the hotwalkers and trainers on sunday mornings in the summer .... They would joke back and forth and never flaunt their wealth ... It is a pleasure to think back to those times with these men that were stalwarts of Canadian racing in the 50's and 60 's....

By Ivan McHutchion

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