Lavin Named for Eclipse Award of Merit

Posted Dec. 28, 2015

In a press release issued today, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers And Broadcasters announced that Leonard Lavin of Glen Hill Farm will be honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit for a lifetime of outstanding achievement for a career marked by enduring accomplishments in racing, breeding and devotion to the Thoroughbred industry.

The presentation will take place at the 45th Annual Eclipse Awards dinner and ceremony on Jan. 16 at Gulfstream Park.

“I am both surprised and deeply honored to receive The Eclipse Award of Merit,” said the 96-yeaer-old Lavin, “It is truly my proudest moment in the horse business – a business that has been one of the great pleasures of my life. From the normal Thursday cards to racing in the Breeders’ Cup and everything in between I have found every moment to be a thrill and a reward. With that has come the wonderful relationships made with people throughout the industry, the camaraderie with our team at Glen Hill Farm, and of course the horses we’ve had the pleasure of breeding, owning and racing. And now this Award provides a capstone that leaves me both humbled and grateful.”

Lavin was born in Chicago in 1919. When he was nine years old, he saw Reigh Count win the 1928 Kentucky Derby, and he was hooked, according to a story in the Ocala Star Banner. Lavin said he has always held a special place in his heart for horses. and for Ocala. The Florida community has been his family’s second home since 1966, when he and wife Bernice, who passed away in 2007, bought their first horse.

“It’s an ideal place to raise horses, the best in the country,” Lavin said. “It’s beautiful country, the climate is wonderful, the soil is very good – our family has just loved it here.”

Willard Proctor and his son Tom have trained for the Glen Hill operation, which breeds and races, over the decades. Together they have produced more than 80 stakes winners, including 1994 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner One Dreamer. Other Glen Hill stakes winners include Relaunch, Convenience, Top Rung, Concept, Win, Repriced, Rich in Spirit, Closeout and Marketing Mix. Relaunch followed a distinguished racing career as a prominent sire, and his stakes winners campaigned by Lavin include Potentiality, Carload, Media Plan and One Dreamer among others.

Lavin said a match race staged in 1972 was his favorite racing memory. His filly Convenience defeated national champion Typecast before more than 50,000 people at Hollywood Park.

In 2008, Lavin’s grandson, Craig Bernick, took over the reins of Glen Hill Farm.

Jay Hovdey, executive columnist for Daily Racing Form and a three-time Eclipse Award winner, said he's followed Lavin since the 1970s. “There is not a corner of the Thoroughbred racing world Leonard Lavin has not touched with his love of the sport and steadfast loyalty,” he said. “The Eclipse Awards have done themselves proud by including him among some of the most important figures the game has known.”

Like many prominent owners, Lavin first succeeded in business. In 1947, while working in sales at a national consumer products company, Lavin met Bernice Weisner at a dance. They were married six months later. In 1955, the Lavins purchased a West Coast beauty supply company and its top product, Alberto-VO5 Conditioning Hairdressing, and moved the operation to Chicago. Over the next 40 years, the Lavins built the brand into a household name, and in 2010, Alberto-Culver was sold to Unilever for $3.7 billion.

Under Lavin's leadership, Alberto-Culver was a Breeders’ Cup race sponsor in 1990 and continued to sponsor the event through its products until 2005.

“Leonard Lavin and his family and team have been a stalwart of the Thoroughbred industry for 50 years, not only as immensely successful breeders and owners and through their philanthropic involvement, but in our case at the Breeders’ Cup as one of our earliest and most steadfast marketing partners,” said former Breeders’ Cup President and 1998 Eclipse Award of Merit winner D.G. Van Clief Jr. “Alberto Culver’s long-running sponsorship of the Breeders’ Cup created a mold that continues to this day.”

Lavin authored of Winners Make It Happen: Reflections of a Self-Made Man. He has won countless awards and honors for his philanthropic, civic, and business endeavors. The Lavin family also has supported numerous racing-related charitable causes.

The Award of Merit will be given for the 40th time since it was inaugurated in 1976 to honor Jack Dreyfus, owner of Hobeau Farm and former New York Racing Association Chairman. Subsequent recipients have included racing luminaries such as Ogden Phipps, Ogden Mills Phipps, John Gaines, Alfred Vanderbilt, Bill Shoemaker, Paul Mellon, Joe Hirsch, James E. Bassett III, John Nerud, Penny Chenery, William S. Farish, Richard Duchossois, Marylou Whitney, D. Wayne Lukas, Van Clief and last year’s recipient, Tom Durkin.

Tickets to The Eclipse Awards ceremony are on sale for $400 each or $4,000 for a table of 10. For reservations, please contact Casey Hamilton of the NTRA at chamilton@ntra.com, or call (859) 422-2627. For more information on The Eclipse Awards, visit http://www.ntra.com/en/eclipse-awards/2016-eclipse-awards/.

Edited NTRA release