Gural-Taylor feud rages as star horses are back in limbo

The owner of The Meadowlands has extended the ban of Howard Taylor’s horses to Taylor’s mother.

by Brett Sturman

Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural served notice this week that the track will not accept entries for horses owned in partnership with Judy Taylor, the mother of Howard Taylor, and that her interests must be divested by June 1.

The move puts some of the best 3-year-olds back into limbo.

To briefly rewind, Gural had banned Taylor beginning December of last year as part of 33 individuals with purported ties to exhibits — in Taylor’s case, the purchase of a substance called BB3 that Gural considered Epogen (EPO) — from the trials of Seth Fishman and Lisa Giannelli. Howard has since brought forth a defamation suit against Gural, and in it, states that the accusations of ordering BB3 or instructing trainers to order BB3 are false.

As a disclaimer before going further, I want to note that I’ve spoken with Howard Taylor socially on occasion in recent years.

That said, with the Gural banning of Taylor from The Meadowlands, it’s not a simple matter of divesting Taylor’s interest due to the vast number of horses that he owns. Approximately 80 per cent of those horses are owned jointly with partners.

As Taylor explained it, “You can’t ask partners to buy them all out, there are too many. The better ones, the expensive yearlings, I go from a quarter, a third, a half – you can sell maybe one or two to the partners, but not all, it’s too many. And it’s not fair to have a stranger come in and buy significant parts of horses [with] people they don’t know and people who don’t know them.”

To bring a resolution to the situation, Taylor sold 10 of his best horses to his mother, Judy.

This is where this situation differs greatly from nearly every other similar instance in the sport where someone is banned and a fly-by-night family member or significant other appears from nowhere to take their place. Judy has been a harness racing mainstay for decades, co-owning and breeding horses in the hundreds during that time. She remains an active owner to this day.

In the case of two of the 10 horses in question — Total Stranger and Thinker Monkey — Judy was an original owner when they were bought as yearlings. She, along with Howard, were both independent owners as part of the Total Stranger partnership group when he raced at The Meadowlands all last year as a 2-year-old.

“I got Bob Boni, who no one is going to question his credentials, to have these horses appraised, and I wanted these horses appraised completely fairly,” Howard said. “[That was] for the horses that would have to race at The Meadowlands for stakes and for the Breeders Crown. This wasn’t a fake paper transfer. My mom has always loved to go to the track and buy horses. She has enough money to buy these on her own, a history of owning horses, she has already owned some of these, and we had a wire transfer from her account to my account for the cost of the appraisals. They’re not mine, but they’re still in my family, allowing me to root for them.”

When I reached out to Gural through email asking for his perspective on Judy Taylor, he responded, “Is this a serious question?”

When I said it was, indeed, a serious question, Gural responded: “I guess like most people in the sport no one cares.”

With Gural being the sole arbiter over what constitutes an acceptable sale and rejecting Judy as a buyer, the horses in question — that also include last year’s top 2-year-old filly pacer My Girl EJ and the promising 3-year-old trotter Security Protected — are back to square one. There is also the issue of Howard’s 40 2-year-olds and those partnerships. How do those get staked for not only The Meadowlands-managed races, but also for all races administered by the Hambletonian Society that are run at The Meadowlands.

To his credit, Gural has done a tremendous service in recent years of facilitating complex, large-scale investigations in his pursuit to clean up the sport. But one of his faults remains a lack of consistency in handing out punishments.

One just has to look to the exclusion list issued by The Meadowlands last November to illustrate this point. From the same exhibits that Gural used as his basis for barring Taylor, other high-percentage winning trainers were included and initially barred too. But, some have already been able to resume racing again at The Meadowlands. Almost immediately, one of those trainers had an older horse win at the track that improved his lifetime best win time by four seconds.

Also, there is personal animosity between Gural and Taylor dating back to at least 2017. That appears to be one of the factors here.

After already having had the United States Trotting Association and Hambletonian Society involved to certain degrees, the situation continues to worsen. Taylor has said that because of Gural not accepting these horses in question, Judy has now been added as a plaintiff to Taylor’s current defamation complaint.

For the betterment of the sport, I call on both Taylor and Gural to find a compromise.