Leonard Lavin, a longtime force in Thoroughbred racing who built Glen Hill Farm into a nationally prominent racing and breeding outfit, died Aug. 2 at the age of 97.
Born in Chicago in 1919, Lavin fell in love with horses after watching Reigh Count win the 1928 Kentucky Derby, according to the Ocala Banner. Ocala, Fla., was his family's second home since 1966, when he and wife Bernice, who died in 2007, bought their first horse.
Under the care of trainer Willard Proctor and his son, Tom Proctor, the Glen Hill racing and breeding operation produced more than 80 stakes winners, including 1994 Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) winner One Dreamer, Relaunch(sire of Breeders' Cup Classic winner Skywalker), Convenience, Top Rung, Concept, Win, Repriced, Rich in Spirit, Closeout, and Marketing Mix. Among Relaunch's stakes winners as a sire campaigned by Lavin were Potentiality, Carload, Media Plan, and One Dreamer.
In 2008, Lavin's grandson, Craig Bernick, took over the reins of Glen Hill Farm.
Bernick said his grandfather's favorite Thoroughbred was Convenience, a grade 1 winner who captured a 1972 match race over national champion Typecast, which drew more than 50,000 to Hollywood Park.
In recent years he drew pleasure from Marketing Mix, a multiple grade-1 winning mare.
"He loved his horses and the horse business. He liked racing and he liked breeding," Bernick said.
Bernick said his grandfather had a "totally sound mind until the end." He constantly wanted to stay on top of how the family's horses were doing.
Bernick said he will continue to operate the farm. "I know that he is happy that it will keep going," Bernick added.
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. The Lavins built Alberto-Culver Co. into a household products and personal beauty care American success story and sold it to Unilever for $3.7 billion in 2010.
They used their success in business to find success at the racetrack. Their first horse, Gabby Abby, became a stakes winner, the first of thousands of other winners and foals from an extensive racing and breeding operation run out of a 400-acre farm in Ocala.
Lavin and Alberto-Culver Co. were early and longtime sponsors of the Breeders' Cup.
"He was one of the most important men in my life," Tom Proctor said. "He was one of the toughest men I've ever known. He lived a full life on his own terms and that’s a good thing."
Tom Proctor is currently training a dozen Glen Hill Farm horses at Del Mar. Fittingly, Glen Hill's West Coast Bias broke her maiden convincingly at Del Mar on the turf Aug. 3. West Coast Bias, by Unbridled's Song, is out of the farm's Repriced mare Closeout. Closeout was out of the Relaunch mare Deep Discount. West Coast Bias' tail female line is made up of Glen Hill Farm mares that trace to Convenience, her fifth dam.
Lavin was involved in many charitable causes and wrote "Winners Make It Happen: Reflections of a Self-Made Man." He won dozens of racing and civic awards throughout his career, including an Eclipse Award of Merit in 2015 for a "lifetime of outstanding achievement."