He isn’t holding a race day program or a $2 win ticket. He isn’t sitting in the Woodbine seats reserved for trainers and owners. But, for every race he’s tasked with working, the diminutive man with the watchful eye has the most impactful role of anyone.
Amid the anxious moments before post time, Dr. Greg Taylor, as he has since 1976, can be found on either Woodbine’s main track or E.P. Taylor Turf Course, methodically walking back and forth, deep in thought, a respected veterinarian tasked with one of the most demanding jobs in thoroughbred racing.
In his estimation, if a horse doesn’t appear to be right, whether it’s a maiden claiming race or seven-figure, star-studded Grade 1 event, it won’t be going postward.
“For the races, we use two vets with one stationed in the paddock to watch the horses being saddled and then after the race to watch them being unsaddled and look for any horses that return lame or are in distress,” said Taylor, who graduated from Ontario Veterinary College (University of Guelph) in 1976. “The other vet is at the starting gate and is able to watch the horses come onto the track and warm up. If a horse shows any indication of lameness or the rider feels that the horse doesn’t feel right, the horse will be examined and maybe scratched.
“The gate vet also supervises the loading of the horses and makes sure that goes smoothly and then is able to respond to any on track incidents that may occur,” he said. “Woodbine supplies us with a truck in which we carry our supplies and can respond quickly to any emergency.”
Taylor’s day and responsibilities start well before the first race gets out of the gates.
“In the mornings, I and another vet divide the barn area in half and will examine usually 40-50 horses each,” he said. “We have a computer generated list of all the horses that are running that day, that are listed by barn number and by the trainer in that barn. Each horse has an examination report that lists their last five starts as well as any vet list history. We are each accompanied by a vet clerk that will write any comments down on our pre-race examine, as well as making sure that the horse is identified by its tattoo.
“The typical examine is we watch the horse jog in the shed row in both directions to see if the horse is jogging sound. Then, the horse’s legs are palpated to detect any heat, swelling or sensitivity. The knee and fetlock joint are flexed to see the range of motion and any reaction to the flexion. We give our findings to the clerk who notes them on the pre-race exam report and will enter them into the computer later.”
That in-depth, near forensic approach of Taylor and others doesn’t guarantee a place in the starting gate.
“If we find nothing untoward, the horse is passed for racing that day. However, if there are any concerns the horse will be re-examined perhaps jogged on the road. We may consult with the trainer’s vet and have on occasion asked for radiographs and ultrasounds. If we are still not satisfied or the horse is showing definite soundness issues, we inform the trainer and recommend to the stewards that the horse is unfit to race that day. After we have completed our morning rounds we go over the day’s program horse by horse and note any new findings or horses that require further scrutiny that afternoon. Then there is the usual paperwork.”
It’s a familiar routine for the man who originally applied for a job with the Ontario Racing Commission (ORC) as a standardbred vet 39 years ago, but was offered a commission role on the thoroughbred side.
Taylor, who started in June of 1976, worked for the ORC until June of 2010.
He also worked part time in the winters for the New York Racing Association (NYRA) at Aqueduct in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
“Dr. Manny Gilman was chief examining veterinarian for NYRA at the time and I adopted his methods of pre-race exams. I was offered a job as association veterinarian by the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) in 2011 and have been there for the last four years. The ORC no longer has commission vets at the racetrack. We are all association vets and are paid by the racetracks.”
The one constant in Taylor’s longstanding career is his unwavering philosophy each day he steps onto the Woodbine grounds.
“My guiding philosophy is to realize that racehorses are athletes and that like a human athlete, they have injuries and suffer wear and tear from racing and training,” he said. “The job of any regulatory veterinarian is to ensure that these athletes are not pushed beyond their limits and if necessary act as an advocate for the horse. It is not always a black and white decision and there are a lot of grey areas. But, you make your decisions on what is best for the horse. I tend to err on the side of caution and will scratch a horse I am not happy with. There is a sport side of racing and a business side and they don’t always mesh. So, we are there to make sure the horse is cared for.”
When a horse is scratched, be it a field of five or 15, the business side of the sport Taylor speaks of takes a hit.
“We are fortunate that Woodbine does not question any of our decisions and have never put any pressure on us to pass horses to keep up field size,” said Taylor. “The gate crew and starter Ian Ross make my job a lot easier if something happens. They are always ready to give a hand when the need arises.”
It’s anything but a stress-free job. But, it’s one that Taylor continues to have a great passion for.
“I worked the Breeders’ Cup races in 1995 and 1996, and then in 2011, I was asked to be part of the Breeders’ Cup Veterinary Panel,” he said. “It’s been a great experience for me and I look forward to it every fall. It is always an honour to be able to look at these good horses and be part of the racing.”
Taylor is also appreciative of those he works alongside at Woodbine.
“We have very capable people in our office,” he noted. “Dr. John Stammer and Dr. Pam Chesterfield and our two vet clerks, Sarah Beauchamp and Krista Tipping, they make it fun to go to work because we work well together and everyone knows that we want to do what is best for the horses. There is usually something funny done in the jockeys’ room or with the starting gate crew that makes it a good place to work.”
A place where an eye for detail keeps the safety of the horse in constant focus.