BELMONT, N.Y.–We eased into the park and waited a few minutes for our escort to guide us to an individual we knew little about.

Belmont Park, the last stop on the road to the Triple Crown. Up next, the Preakness. A quick elevator ride and there he was, the legend, Sentell “Sonny” Taylor. Born on the South Side of Chicago in 1937, he attended the legendary Wendell Phillips High School then made his way south to Southern University, where he played basketball for two years.

Leaving Southern on a good note, Taylor, who likes to be called Sonny, shook hands with us, and we greeted each other like long lost friends. I realized where we were standing; we were overlooking the track with about 30 minutes to post time for the first race.

When Taylor left Southern, he entered the armed services and served in Munich, Germany. We had something in common, as we had spent a pleasant two weeks in Munich covering the McDonald Open. But we were not there to talk hoops. As Bill Moore loaded up his camera and began popping everything moving, I said to myself, “How in the hell did this guy get this job–the most important and critical job within the New York Racing Association?”

“Been here for 48 years,” said Taylor, who spends his life between Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga parks. “My uncle, Earl Williams, got me the job as an assistant clocker. He was the head clocker,” said Taylor. Damn! All these years of entering the grounds, it never dawned on me that upstairs worked a Black man in a position that was unbelievably important.

As post time came for the first race, we had the best seat in the house: overlooking the track with the finish line staring at us.

Taylor was good at his job as the assistant clocker. Thus, he continued his path upward. “I became the official timer for the tracks in 1971, and in 1972, I became a patrol judge.”

Nine years later, he became a placing judge. The placing judge, along with the rest of his crew, determine each race. If there’s a dispute, it is their responsibility to get it right–a task he and his partner, Tom Durkin, share, as they compare and finally determine the exact time and order.

With millions of dollars at stake throughout the day or evening, Taylor, Durkin and their third man on the wheel, Stephen Foster, make the world of horse racing go around and around and across the finish line.

To be continued…