Stepping down from his Windfields jet, E.P. Taylor bounded across the tarmac into the terminal building, where he pulled up short in front of a vending machine.
“Help me, Joe. I don’t have any U.S. change.”
As I sorted through my change for quarters, the Canadian tycoon described by biographer Peter Newman as “the ultimate personification of the riches gained and power wielded,” fumed, “Never mind. Damned if I’m going to pay 75 cents for a slice of stale pound cake!”
This, in July 1974, was the only time in a quarter-century as Mr. Taylor’s point man for Maryland operations that I had ever known him to balk at price, either buying or selling.
He didn’t flinch when, a year earlier, the price for Cragwood Stable’s sire prospect Tentam was $2.2 million, a record figure for a horse in training.
He didn’t haggle when I introduced him to a neighbor who was interested in selling her farm. “Your price, madam?” When she responded, he beamed, “Good. I’ll have my Toronto office cut a check in the morning.”
As we departed, I asked Mr. Taylor if he wanted to drive through the farm, to inspect his latest acquisition. “No, that won’t be necessary. I’ve flown over this property so often I know what’s here. This exercise is mainly to protect my flank.”
When E.P. Taylor would fly in from out of the country, he had to land for customs inspection at New Castle Airport, the approach to which took him over Delaware Park, home turf to the extended du Pont sporting families. It had, however, fallen on lean times.
E.P. had a plan to buy and energize Delaware Park: concentrate on 2-year-old and turf races so that New York and New Jersey trainers could set up separate divisions for runners lacking racing opportunities on the home front.
“Let’s go see if they are ready to talk, Joe.”
As we waited in the turf club to feel out senior staff, we noted executives hunched over a small table, engaged in some sort of frenetic activity. Asked later about this, an officer replied, “Oh, that. We were playing Pac-Man.” The boss was not amused.
As it developed, the board was still hopeful of a turnaround. By the time they were ready to sell, Mr. Taylor was gravely ill. William Rickman, the elder, wound up buying Delaware Park. His enterprising son, also named William, now enjoys “slotsa” success with the Stanton oval.
The evening of the pound cake caper, Mr. Taylor, Windfields’ vice president of Thoroughbred operations Joe Thomas, and I met over dinner to discuss the purchase and syndication of the sire prospect Halo, then training forwardly at Belmont Park with MacKenzie Miller, after a $600,000 sale to Irving Allen’s Derisley Wood Stud in England had been voided because Halo was a cribber.
Undaunted that the $600,000 Halo was now priced at a million, Mr. Taylor also shook off the cribber knock. Wasn’t Kelso, just a whinny away at Woodstock Farm, a world-class cribber?
The deal was struck and the 5-year-old son of Hail to Reason—Cosmah, by Cosmic Bomb, was syndicated for $1,200,000—40 shares at $30,000 each. Shortly thereafter, Halo won the $100,000 United Nations Handicap in Windfields’ turquoise and gold.
As with so many of Windfields’ great latter-day successes, Mr. Taylor did not get to savor Halo’s. Stricken by a debilitating stroke in October 1980, the great breeder was non compos mentis while Halo reigned as leading sire of 1983, the year his son Sunny’s Halo won the Kentucky Derby.
In February 1984, Charles Taylor (who had succeeded his father as Windfields president), Joe Thomas, and I met in a Manhattan brownstone to arrange the sale of Halo to Tom Tatham (Oak Creek Breeders) and Arthur B. Hancock III (Stone Farm) for $36 million—that was some price for a 15-year-old stallion.
It was a great deal for both buyer and seller. Original shareholders who had bought in at $30,000 and had the use of the stallion for 10 years received $900,000 if the 1984 breeding right was included. Otherwise, the bounty was $700,000.
Re-syndicated in Kentucky, Halo went on to earn his second sire title (1989) on the back of his gifted Horse of the Year son, Sunday Silence.
Joe Hickey, who lives in Easton, Md., has been a publicist, writer, breeding farm administrator, and racing commissioner.