Success as a jockey has been instant for Taylor Rice. It isn't all that surprising when you consider her ties to horses and racing date back more than a century.
While she might have been expected to enter the family business as early as she possibly could, Rice took a somewhat unconventional route to the racetrack. She decided to get a college degree first, which she obtained from Florida State University in 2010. At the time, becoming a jockey wasn't even on her radar.
“It wasn’t my first thought, by any means,” she said. “I went to college, graduated and needed a job.”
So, Rice began working horses for her father, Wayne, a trainer and former rider. Last August, she rode in her first race at Presque Isle Downs (in Erie, Pa.) and won aboard Giggle Fit, a 3-year-old trained by her brother and owned by her grandfather.
“That was a big deal,” Rice said. “I didn't learn much because we just went to the front and kept running. But it was awesome, a great way to start.”
Since Rice started winning, she hasn't stopped. She won eight more races at Presque Isle Downs before moving to Chicago late last year. There, she won a meet-leading 21% of her races at Hawthorne Race Course. All the while, another one of her relatives in the racing industry had been keeping a close eye on her.
“I had it in the back of my mind that she had a lot of raw talent,” said Linda Rice, who is Taylor’s aunt and also one of the most respected New York-based trainers.
“When they closed [at Hawthorne], I said look, ‘I've got you an agent and I’ve got you a place to stay.’ So, she came [to New York] and I think she's doing great.”
Since moving her tack – or switching riding circuits - to New York, Taylor has made her aunt proud while also opening the eyes of race fans in the big city. On Monday, Rice won four races at Aqueduct, giving her a dozen total victories and a meet-leading 27% win percentage. She has also finished in the money (first, second or third) 57% of the time.
TAYLOR RICE GETS INSTRUCTIONS BEFORE A RACE
“I'm so excited for her,” Linda Rice said. “She’s very strong, she’s the right size, she has a great disposition, she’s got a lifetime of experience with horses and I'm so excited to see her do well.”
From her perspective, Taylor credits her aunt, who is also her roommate, for much of her success in New York.
“She’s been in the business forever and knows everybody and everything," she said. "It's awesome to have her for any questions [I might have]."
Linda, who became the first woman to ever capture a training title at the prestigious Saratoga summer meet, has also won multiple training titles at Belmont and Aqueduct. Despite her impressive résumé and knowledge of the racing industry, she has tried to strike a balance in shaping Taylor's development.
“Here and there, I’ll give her a little advice but I don’t want to overanalyze her,” she said. “I just want to give her a chance to learn and not feel micromanaged.”
Taylor has grown confident, largely based on the strong relationship she has with her aunt. Additionally, she jokingly suggested that Linda is taking her cues from the family patriarch.
“She’s given me plenty of live mounts. My grandfather [Linda’s father, Clyde] is pushing her to,” said Taylor, with a smile.
Whether it’s a credit to her aunt, brothers, father, grandfather or her great-grandfather, Rice seems to be a natural, just discovering her calling at the age of 25. She’s got a long way to go but demonstrating the consistency that she has thus far in the always-competitive New York riding circuit would seem to bode well for her future.
“I love horses and I feel like we get along. I try hard and I feel like they try hard for me,” Taylor said. “It’s been amazing that it’s gone this well.”
LINDA RICE AND TAYLOR RICE WITH POSE WITH DAN TORDJMAN AND VICTORIA GAROFALO AT AQUEDUCT