Sonny Taylor Jr. Announces Retirement from NYRA

Sentell “Sonny” Taylor, Jr., who first joined the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) as an assistant clocker in 1964 at Aqueduct, has announced his retirement. The 85-year-old, currently serving as a NYRA placing judge, will step down on Apr. 2 after 58 years.

“Sonny Taylor is a friend, a mentor and an encyclopedia of racing–and we will miss him,” said NYRA’s Senior Vice President, Racing Operations Frank G. Gabriel, Jr. “There’s no one else like Sonny, and we look forward to honoring him in a way that highlights his many contributions to New York racing.”

A Chicago native, Taylor attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, where he played collegiate basketball. After working for the U.S. Postal Service, he joined the U.S. Army, serving in Germany, before a visit to New York changed the path of his life. Shortly after his discharge, Taylor accompanied his great uncle and NYRA clocker Earl Williams to the track and was hooked.

With Williams’ recommendation, Taylor became an assistant clocker at NYRA, working under the tutelage of Jack Kennedy, a fixture in the racing office; he became an official timer in 1971 and a patrol judge in 1972. Taylor was on hand for Secretariat’s record-shattering performance of 2:24 in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont of 1973.

Taylor timed two other Belmonts that resulted in Triple Crowns–Seattle Slew’s renewal in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978. In 1981, at the suggestion of the late NYRA board chairman Alfred G. Vanderbilt, Jr., he became a placing judge.

In 2014, Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement honored Taylor with its Frankel Award for Lifetime Achievement. According to Old Friends, among the horses he assisted in placement were Ogygian, Gulch, Kiri’s Clown, Awad, Hidden Lake, Polish Navy, Glitterman, Ruhlmann, Sunshine Forever, Commentator and Affirmed Success.

“I’ve seen plenty of great races and some terrific performances,” he said. “But I think what I’ve especially enjoyed the most is all the different kinds of amazing people I’ve met and encountered in racing.”

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