Heath Taylor, 24, could pass for any other successful member of Generation X. He earned a college degree, started a good job right out of school and is planning a spring wedding.
But you won't find Taylor behind a desk. He is more comfortable in the barn area at Los Alamitos, where he has accomplished something few people of any generation can boast about. In his first year as a trainer, Taylor is starting a horse in one of the most prestigious quarter horse races of the year, the $250,000 Champion of Champions.
Taylor, a native of Bedford, Ky., trains the former 2-year-old champion gelding Femmes Frolic. Femmes Frolic, now 5, earned one of the last two berths in the Champion of Champions by finishing second in the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors trial on Nov. 26.
In the $20,000 trial, Femmes Frolic turned in a game effort, finishing a neck behind Childish, who will be making his second Champion of Champions appearance.
Femmes Frolic, owned by Roger (Sonny) Knight Jr., spent most of the early part of the year at Ruidoso Downs in Ruidoso, N.M., where he was conditioned by another young trainer, Bobby Merchant. There, Femmes Frolic won the All-American Gold Cup and ran second in the World's Championship Classic. He also won the Bayou City Handicap at Sam Houston Race Park in Texas.
When the time came for Femmes Frolic to move to Los Alamitos, Merchant suggested his friend, Taylor, as the gelding's next trainer, and Knight agreed.
In his first start of the year at Los Alamitos, Femmes Frolic ran third behind world champion contender Down With Debt in the California Challenge Championship.
"When he gets ready to run, the horse is aggressive, very aggressive," Taylor said. "He doesn't do anything wrong. He trains just super. He tells you when he's ready. All you have to do is take care of him. . . .
"Don't get me wrong, sometimes he just gets beat by better horses, and sometimes he beats them. But very seldom does he make any mistakes. Usually when he gets beat, they just run faster."
Taylor will be hoping that Femmes Frolic doesn't make any mistakes Saturday night and can run fast enough to earn a trip to the winner's circle of what is shaping up to be the race of the year.
"It's an honor and a pleasure to be in the Champion of Champions," Taylor said. "I think there's certainly some standouts in the race, but for anyone to confidently say that they're going to do this, this and this, is very unrealistic. There's nine or 10 horses in there that could win the race."
Taylor has experienced a lot of winning lately. His stable has won nearly $130,000 since March, and horses he has saddled have finished in the top three better than 50% of the time.
But for Taylor, winning is only part of a love affair that began when his father, Michael, introduced his young son to the world of horses.
"He's been involved in all facets of horse racing, breeding and training," Taylor said of his father. "But for the last 15 years, it's been all racing."
And no matter where Taylor was, he always found a way to be around horses.
"I've always participated heavily in the horse side of it--in high school, before and after school, in college. I played college basketball, and after practice I would drive to the ranch just to stay (involved with the horses). There's probably a very, very limited number of quarter horse racetracks I have not been to and/or raced or worked at."
But Taylor doesn't stake his whole future on making it as a trainer. He has a bachelor's degree in equine administration with a minor in business and law from the University of Louisville.
He also completed an internship at Los Alamitos, where he did a patron survey on how to improve racing and service at the Cypress track. And after he graduated, he spent a year working for the Texas Quarter Horse Assn. as the director of racing programs.
Taylor knows that his experiences have given him a security not usually associated with training racehorses.
"I got the degree and the experience, and age is on my side," he said. "I knew I could always go back to the administrative side of it if there was ever a problem.
"I'm going to try (training). But we all know this is a risky business, and it's always good to have that to go back to. I would entertain any offers, but at the same time, I'm very content right now."
Taylor would probably be even more content to win the Champion of Champions. Among the horses Femmes Frolic might race are Down With Debt, Refrigerator, Brotherly, Childish, I Hear A Symphony, Sound Dash, Sheza First Down, Avison and Childish.
Los Alamitos Notes
Patricia Visscher's Follow The Sign won the $20,000 Josie's Bar Handicap on Saturday, running 550 yards in 27.03 seconds. Follow The Sign, who had previously won the QHBC Far West Futurity, is trained by H.J. Visscher and was ridden by G.R. Carter.