Paul Saylor laughs when you ask him how he got into racing, then asks you a question. “You really want to know?” Thirty-odd years ago, Saylor was at a charity auction run by former Texas Gov. John Connally in Houston. The auction items included western art, Santa Gertrudis bull sperm and Quarter Horses. By the end of the night, Saylor hadn’t bought anything so he bid on the last horse in the ring. And kept bidding. Connally loved it.
“Son, congratulations,” he told Saylor. “You’re the winning bidder, the under-bidder and the under-under bidder.”
The horse, of course, couldn’t run a step but Saylor was in. He campaigned Quarter Horses for five years and then migrated to Thoroughbreds. One of his first, owned as part of the Starlight Racing partnership, was 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Ashado. Others included Grade 1 winner Purge, champion Fleet Indian, New York-bred star Phil The Grip and others. Saylor owns 11 Thoroughbreds now with eyes on something to run at Saratoga.
But he’s also thinking about other people’s horses and will be part of an event benefiting the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Olivia’s Herd program at Saratoga Race Course today. Olivia’s Herd consists of the 25 neediest cases in the TRF. They’re old horses, often with special needs, based on farms in South Carolina and Oklahoma. The program honors Saylor’s daughter Olivia, who died in 2011.
Thursday’s fifth race will be named the Olivia’s Herd and jockey Rosie Napravnik will meet fans and sign autographs at the NYRA charity booth at 11:30 a.m. Information on the TRF and Olivia’s Herd will be available throughout the day.
Founded the year Olivia Saylor died, Olivia’s Herd includes horses who require special diets, medication and/or extra attention. Saylor says the mission would appeal to his daughter.
“She’d love it,” he said. “This is her stuff. She was the youngest of five kids and she was my horse buddy from age 3 on. She really loved the game. I’m sure she thought it was easier than it was. She and Ashado were tight. She’d love it. I’m interested in keeping some focus on her and this is a way to do it.”
Olivia Saylor died in a house fire on New Year’s Day 2011 in Charleston, S.C. She was 21. Her family pays tribute to her love of horses in a variety of ways – Olivia’s Herd, an internship with the New Vocations horse adoption center and a scholarship through the Race For Education program. The ideas are all about horses and encouraging involvement in the sport.
“This will be the fourth year (for the event at Saratoga) and the idea is to have it help get young people interested in the game,” said Saylor. “Hopefully some kids show up at the booth, meet Rosie, learn a little bit about Olivia and the horses and the TRF gets some money raised.”
Saylor has been a part of the TRF for some time and the organization came up with the concept of Olivia’s Herd to focus care on horses in need and to honor Olivia. The horses include Country Strut, In Spired Chief, Bustin Digits, Say Now, Remember Cass and others you’ve never heard of. Some earned north of $200,000 on the track, others barely made a dime, but they’re all there and they all get attention.
“I like the TRF a lot,” said Saylor. “They do good work. The horses (in Olivia’s Herd) are inspected regularly, and they’re getting good care. I get a snapshot and a couple paragraphs on each horse from time to time. It all starts with the horses, which is why we’re here.”
John Connally would be proud. So would Olivia.