Graduating senior Zachary A. Taylor is still relatively new to horse racing. His first trip to a racetrack piqued his interest, and it snowballed from there. By coincidence, his interest in horse racing began around the same time he started taking evening and online classes through a local community college. One of his first projects in English Composition was to research his career area of interest. At the time, that career interest was law. After discussing it with his professor, they decided it would be more fun to research a career in horse racing. That project led him to visit the Race Track Industry Program.
Zach was certain he was on the right career path once he enrolled in the RTIP in the fall of 2016. While working full-time at the University of Arizona, he also excelled in his classes. He spent his first year in the PRISE internship working in the mutuels department. He proved deft at running a tote machine and quickly added more responsibilities. Those added responsibilities afforded him the opportunity to serve as assistant general manager during the 2019 Rillito meet.
Growing up, what was your involvement and interest in horse racing?
None. I have my mom to thank for my appreciation of the horse, as she had some trail horses as I was growing up, but my involvement in racing did not come until my mid-twenties.
What's the most important thing you've learned through your classes and job experiences?
Dr. Mary Scollay presented a guest lecture in one of the Race Track Industry Program classes last year, speaking about the role and responsibilities of track veterinarians. In her presentation she stated that the track vets must be an unconditional advocate for the health and wellness of the the racehorse. I've made that a principle that I will use throughout my career, and feel it should apply to everyone involved in racing. When put in practice, as it was through the equine wellness program at Rillito Park this meet, the evidence speaks for itself. While we were left with short fields in several races due to vet scratches, I am extremely proud that Rillito horses suffered ZERO catastrophic racing injuries over the entire meet.
What kind of work have you done at Rillito Race Track?
My first meet in 2018 was spent in the mutuels department. I spent time with the mutuels manager getting an overview of how the department operates; however, most of my time was spent behind a tote machine. I enjoyed my time as a ticket seller. Rillito is well attended, and there are many fans who are racing novices. My favorite part about the 2018 meet was refining my “elevator pitch” to explain the basics of wagering to those who needed help. In 2019, I served as the assistant general manager. This role presented me with many responsibilities that will be invaluable moving forward in my career. I executed the simulcast contracts for the 2019 meet. I presented the permittee reports at Arizona Racing Commission meetings. I even got to lobby a horse racing bill before the Arizona House of Representatives. The opportunities I was given at Rillito through the PRISE program have helped prepare me for a great career in racing. A huge thanks to Mike and all involved in putting the internships together.
Talk about someone in the industry whose work you admire.
Dr. Marshall Gramm participated in a panel at the first RTIP symposium I attended called “Bridging the Horseracing-Academic Divide”. I enjoyed what he had to say and introduced myself after the panel. I found out he is an economics professor at Rhodes College in Memphis and frequents my home track, Oaklawn Park. Occasionally I will see some highlights from one of his economics courses at Rhodes, in which students are tasked with handicapping a race. If that isn't helping bring about a younger generation of horseplayer, I don't know what is. As time has gone by, I have learned that Dr. Gramm is also an astute and willing horseplayer himself. On top of that, he owns and breeds racing stock. These three levels of participation in the sport; fostering growth from a younger generation, engaging in mutuels, and shoring up foal crop numbers are all things I aspire to do. It was especially nice seeing his homebred Zippy Lou get her cap and gown on my yearly trip back home to Oaklawn.
Did you have a favorite horse or horse racing moment growing up that has stuck with you?
I didn't catch the bug until my late twenties, but I remember clearly what sealed the deal. March 15th, 2015; 8th race at Oaklawn Park. I wasn't there, but I had been working hard on my handicapping. The horse that I liked to win the race was 10/1 on the morning line. I was just getting enough confidence to trust my opinions and wagered accordingly. Paganol, a son of Tiz Wonderful, broke like a rocket and the result was never in doubt. That was one of the best days. Also, Zenyatta.
What do you consider the most important problem facing the racing industry? How would you go about solving it?
It is too expensive to make a wager, much less an informed one. Between the cost of data, and the hurdle of a blended takeout rate around 21%, horseplayers trying to turn a profit are really up against it. If I were racing czar, I would do everything I could to provide free digital data to players and work on lowering the takeout rate at tracks across the country.
What do you hope to do in the industry after graduation?
I mentioned above three levels of participation that I feel are important to the revival and survival of our game. Bringing in new fans, supporting the product through participation at the windows and farm are all things I aim to do. More specifically though, I have an amazing opportunity to help open a new race track (yes, in 2019!). On the condition from my amazing new boss that I still graduate from the RTIP, I have begun work as the special projects manager at the soon-to-be opening Arizona Downs in Prescott Valley, Ariz. As I write this, I have been a bonafide industry member for just over a week, and I haven't been able to wipe the smile off my face the entire time.
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