It was a Triple Crown season in which all three winners had solid connections to Saratoga Springs and the Capital Region. Dr. Joan Taylor and Dr. Bill Wilmot did not come home to Saratoga with a trophy, yet they secured a precious prize they had been working toward for more than 30 years.
Taylor and Wilmot, who met at Tufts University veterinary school and married after graduation, bred Belmont Stakes starter Twisted Tom at their Stepwise Farm on Fitch Road near Saratoga Lake. While they have produced many successful horses through the years, Twisted Tom was their first Triple Crown runner. Starting on the rail, he found plenty of trouble yet showed some grit and finished sixth in the field of 11.
Though a victory would have been oh so sweet, Taylor and Wilmot appreciated their personal accomplishment. "To reach a level where one of your horses is thought highly enough of to run in one of the classics is a great honor and really a lifetime achievement for us," she said. "When I sat at the bar at the old Sperry's with Bill, I don't think we were married at the time, he said one of his dreams was to breed a horse that ran in the classics. Lo and behold, I think this horse fulfilled that dream."
Taylor and Wilmot have delivered approximately 150 Thoroughbred foals at Stepwise Farm. Some have been sold for very nice prices at auction. A high percentage have been winners on the track and a good number have won stakes. Twisted Tom, a son of Creative Cause out of their broodmare Tiffany Twisted, twice failed to sell at auction because radiographs showed a sesamoid bone in one of his legs may be a problem. He was withdrawn from a third sale and was subsequently sold to Thomas Brockley for a bargain price in a private sale. Brockley promptly sold the horse after his second win to top trainer Chad Brown, a native of Mechanicville. Twisted Tom opened 2017 with three straight wins, two of them in stakes, bringing his proud breeders on a ride to the Belmont Stakes.
"It's the cherry on top," Wilmot said. "It's the feeling, sort of an affirmation, that we do have some idea of what we're doing, that our program has merit, that it's based in sound breeding principles. There is such a leap of faith in breeding horses. We take a lot of things into consideration: pedigree, of course; conformation; looking for a stallion to complement a mare. It's guesswork and hopefully some times the gods smile on you."
Since Saratoga Springs is such an important part of the Thoroughbred racing business, it is quite common for there to be ties locally to the winners of important races in America as well as internationally. This year there are an extraordinary number of links to three Triple Crown winners. Saratoga Springs-based West Point Thoroughbreds owns a percentage of Kentucky Derby hero Always Dreaming. The West Point group includes former New York Racing Association track announcer Tom Durkin, who lives much of the year in Saratoga. Colonie native and Saratoga homeowner William Lawrence is the co-owner of Cloud Computing, whom Brown prepared for his victory in the Preakness. It was the first Triple Crown race win for Brown, already an established star at the age of 38. Among the owners of Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit is Brian Spearman a graduate of Saratoga Central Catholic High School and a Saratoga homeowner.
Wilmot was raised in Rochester and visited Saratoga Race Course with his parents in the 1950s. "It just blew me away way back when," Wilmot said. "Fast forward to when I was training horses ... I was stabled there and I just fell in love with the town, the racetrack, the magic."
Taylor grew up around Boston and in New Jersey and visited Saratoga Springs with Wilmot for the first time in 1980 to attend the races. "Of course," she said, "Saratoga is amazing and presents itself so well. Bill said, 'Hey, if this relationship ever gets serious, this is where we're living.'"
After spending most of the 1970s working on the track, and saddling 1975 Met Mile upset winner Gold and Myrrh, Wilmot enrolled in vet school in 1979. Two years later, he and Taylor purchased 200 acres of vacant land on Fitch Road that had once been part of a dairy farm. Their property is adjacent to McMahon Thoroughbreds, where 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide was foaled.
"We decided that the rolling hills and the beautiful view were ideal for horses and a horse farm and a future home," Taylor said. "There was absolutely nothing on the land. There were no roads, no buildings. You couldn't get from one side of the pond to the other. We lived in town and were involved in our own veterinary practice but worked on developing the land and the buildings, did a lot of site work over the next 10 years and eventually had horses. It took a long time to develop it. Everything you see there has been our life's work and building this dream of having a small but quality Thoroughbred breeding farm."
At its peak, Stepwise Farm was home to about 30 horses. Taylor and Wilmot have downsized in recent years and are breeding three mares. The newest member of their band is Stormy Caress, a half-sister to West Coast, winner of the Easy Goer Stakes on the Belmont Stakes day program. The farm name came from a play on words. "First of all, it took us 10 years to develop this, so it was many steps to get there and realize our dream," Taylor said. "No. 2, the horse business is a challenging business, so you want to step wisely in it."
Using that careful approach, Taylor and Wilmot have found success through the years. Twisted Tom, the horse no one wanted, delivered something quite special.
"We have faith in the mare, faith in the family and a little lady luck on our side and eventually we were rewarded," she said. "It's all good." S