At first glance, Edward Plunket Taylor, a 61-year-old Canadian industrialist and sportsman, would seem the perfect type to play the villain in the film version of an Eric Ambler thriller. A big, balding man with a Sydney Greenstreet chuckle, Taylor has a thick portfolio of international holdings ranging from timber to tractors. To make the rounds of his empire, he flies a quarter of a million miles a year, much of it in his own turboprop Vickers Viscount. It is easy to visualize Taylor, as played by Greenstreet, pressing a button (closeup of a well-manicured hand) and barking, " Europe marches tonight!" Toward the end of the film the hero, played by Cary Grant, would trap Taylor in the Tyrol and exclaim with proper amazement, "So you're Mr. Big!"
Taylor, pointing his pipe (really a pistol) at Grant: "Very clever of you, sir. Ho, ho, ho!" (Sound of shots, fadeout, start of chase sequence in funicular.)
Alas, life only imitates art up to a point, and "Eddie" Taylor is no such villain at all. He is a tycoon, all right, but his fortune rests on a base of beer, not bullets. Instead of Europe marching, Canada burps. Thanks to Taylor, Canada also bets; he is the Dominion's leading patron of Thoroughbred racing. In fact, he is the Dominion's leading anything when it comes to the turf. For instance, in 1960 he was the leading breeder of winners in all North America. Not all the winners raced in the turquoise and gold colors of Windfields Farm, Taylor's stable; he likes to share his bounty. Each September he holds a private sale of all the yearlings bred on his stud farm near Oshawa, Ontario. Previous buyers get first crack, and they can buy any yearlings they wish as long as they meet Taylor's price tag. There is no haggling. All sales are take it or leave it. After a stipulated number of the yearlings have been sold, Taylor halts the sale and keeps the leavings. He does quite well with them. Four years ago no buyer wanted Victoria Park, priced at $12,500. Taylor kept him, and before the colt was retired to Oshawa last year he had finished third in the Kentucky Derby, won the Queen's Plate ( Canada's own version of the Derby) and $250,076 in purses, the alltime record for a Canadian horse. Taylor was pleased by Victoria Park's performance but not particularly surprised. Horses bred by him have won 10 of the last 13 Queen's Plate races. The winner last June was the Taylor-bred Blue Light, owned by Colonel K. R. Marshall, the chairman of The Jockey Club, Ltd. The victory was worth $46,620 but, more important, it was the colonel's first Plate win in 50 years of trying. He had paid Taylor only $7,500 for Blue Light in the 1959 yearling sale.
If Eddie Taylor had never had success in breeding or racing horses, he would still be the most important man in Canadian turf circles, for one very good reason. He is the president of The Jockey Club, Ltd. Ten years ago, when Ontario racing was strictly bush league, the province had seven tracks, all third-rate, that scrambled for the choice dates. By the time they had finished carving up the calendar, not one could make money. As a result, the purses were miserable, the quality of racing poor and the public fed up. Taylor swooped down upon the tracks, killed off five, rebuilt two and erected a new Woodbine for $13 million.
One of the tracks that Taylor bought and rebuilt was Fort Erie, purchased from John Cella of St. Louis. " Taylor has an abnormally keen mind that gets right to the heart of things in seconds," Cella says. "He has an enormous amount of drive.
"I remember I was sitting at home on a Saturday night when the phone rang. It was Taylor calling from Toronto. He said, 'You don't know me, but I'd like to buy your racetrack at Fort Erie. How much do you want?' I named a figure, and he said, 'That's a little more than I anticipated, but I think we can meet it. Mr. Cella, have your lawyer in my office Monday morning.' The deal was made in three minutes over the phone. I never met the man until six months later."
Each of the three tracks now has a long and profitable season, patrons can watch in comfort and horsemen are delighted with the increased purses. Taylor expects the new Woodbine, which now attracts a peak crowd of 30,000, to pull in 75,000 to 100,000 in 10 or 15 years' time. As one knowing U.S. horseman recently remarked, Taylor is "the greatest single force in any country's racing since Admiral Rous." The admiral, it may be recalled, controlled the British Jockey Club for most of the 19th century and instituted the weight-for-age handicap scale used today.
Besides his interest in racing, Taylor is a major figure in developing the resort possibilities of the Bahamas. He bought a 4,000-acre chunk of New Providence island, and there he has built the largest private yacht harbor in the world for the residential colony of Lyford Cay, one of the most lavish vacation communities anywhere.
In every field Taylor operates in an unusual fashion. When at home in Toronto, he disdains a downtown office and works instead in the gatehouse of his 600-acre estate, Windfields Farm, where his horses are kept in training. After breakfast and a brisk horseback ride, he spends the morning receiving reports from five key aides assigned to look after his business interests, horses and Lyford Cay. A reticent man, he modestly uses the editorial "we" instead of "I" in conversation to play down his power and influence, and he does his best to avoid the press, most of which he privately detests because it has attacked him as a monopolist. "My friends say that the press doesn't 'get' me," Taylor recently remarked. "They're right. The press doesn't."
Taylor's knack of turning a dollar may derive from a formative teen-age year he spent living with his maternal grandfather, Charles Magee, a smalltime wheeler dealer who dabbled in Ottawa beer and real estate. During this period Taylor picked up the habit of studying the agate type in the financial pages each morning. After a year of schooling in England, where he accompanied his father, Colonel Plunket Taylor, during World War I, he enrolled at McGill University in Montreal to study mechanical engineering. He helped put himself through by inventing a toaster, but by the time he received his B.S. in 1922 he had decided to pass up engineering in favor of finance.