It might be difficult for Howard Taylor to have a better year than 2010 as a harness racing horse owner, but the lifelong local resident is hopeful it will happen.
Taylor, a 51-year-old attorney and restaurateur from Penn Valley, recently was named Pennsylvania Owner of the Year by the Keystone Chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association. He saw a number of his horses win stakes races last year, led by Buck I St Pat, who was voted the sport's best older female trotter for a third consecutive year.
"It was a great year," Taylor said. "There are always some disappointments, but the good ones really raced out of their minds and I had some other horses surprise me that weren't world-beaters, but were nice steady racehorses.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that as great a year as last year was, this one will be better. I'm lined up better going into the year. Of course, this time of year they're all superstars. When they go behind the starting gate, then we'll see."
Taylor is a product of the Lower Merion School District and received his undergraduate and law degrees from Temple University.
"I've lived all my life within three miles of where I live now," Taylor said. "I joke that I've never needed a moving van; I could carry my furniture."
Taylor's father, Jerome, introduced him to harness racing by bringing him to Brandywine Raceway and later became a successful racehorse owner.
"My dad bought a horse when I was 12," Taylor said. "I used to go to the track and muck stalls and work around the horses. Every summer I got more involved. Then I started training. When I was 17 I got my (harness racing) driver's license. I actually had a thought about doing that for a living, but then I went to law school."
Taylor won 53 races as a driver, but has since made his name as an owner. His Buck I St Pat, who is getting ready for her seventh season of racing, has won 49 of 91 lifetime races and earned $2.11 million in purses. Last year, she won nine times and earned $715,135—the most of any older trotter, male or female, in the sport. She lost to 3-year-old champion Lucky Chucky for Trotter of the Year in the closest vote for the award (60-54) since 1976.
"I know I have to retire her someday, but I don't want to do it. It's my biggest fear," Taylor said. "I get my biggest thrills watching her race. We map out a strategy at the beginning of the year, and then I live week to week for the next race. It's exciting. It's what you're in racing for."
Other top horses for Taylor last year were stakes-winners Ginger And Fred, a female pacer, and Fred And Ginger, a male pacer. Fred And Ginger paced the fastest mile in the history of The Meadows, a track near Pittsburgh.
Also notching stakes victories were pacers Versado and Rock N Soul, two horses Taylor bought into during the year with, among others, his trainer, Ron Burke.
Burke, who lives near Pittsburgh, was named Pennsylvania Trainer of the Year.
"I just got very lucky finding some good horses and getting in with the Burkes, who found more horses and are kind enough to let me in on them," said Taylor, who also breeds horses.
One, a 2-year-old pacer that will begin racing this summer, is named Verdad, after his in Bryn Mawr.
"I'm just having fun with it."