Glen Hill Farm founder Leonard Lavin has a personality tailor-made for Thoroughbred racing. While tough and demanding of his racing operation’s employees on one hand, he has been equally accepting during the tough times and bad breaks he’s endured through 50 years as an owner and breeder.
“He has the highest expectations for and is hardest on the ones he loves,” said Craig Bernick, Lavin’s grandson and president of Glen Hill, while accepting the Eclipse Award of Merit Jan. 16 on his grandfather’s behalf. “He’s been a hard but fair boss.”
Another who has repeatedly run head-long into Lavin’s iron will is Hap Proctor, who managed Lavin’s Glen Hill Farm near Ocala for 23 years and is now retired. Proctor, the son of Lavin’s first trainer, Willard Proctor, said his former boss could certainly lose his temper but quickly added that he could take a tongue-lashing, too.
Proctor recalled only three times that he went “over the top” about something Lavin had done. The first time he remembered well. Proctor had a string of Glen Hill horses at the track in California, before he’d moved to the farm.
“I mean I really reamed him out over something,” Proctor said. “I felt terrible about it later, and I was sure he was going to fire my butt. I wouldn’t answer the phone for a week. But, you know, the next time we spoke there was never anything said about it. Never. If he felt I was right, it never bothered him, and it never ruined our relationship.”
Proctor said he never took a dressing-down from Lavin personally either.
“After being raised by my dad, I might ask him, ‘You were hollering at me?,’ ” Proctor said dryly. “Really, we had a good relationship that way. A lot of people you work for, you can’t do that.”
Straight talk is a family trait running strong in the Proctor clan, so perhaps the long association between the Lavins and the Proctors is a key to their many successes together.
Willard Proctor became Lavin’s first trainer in 1967. Then based in Chicago, Proctor was one of three trainers recommended to Lavin by an executive at Arlington Park. The first racehorse Proctor picked out for Lavin that summer was Gabby Abby, an Illinois-bred daughter of Some Chance who went on to win the Indian Maid Handicap at Hawthorne Race Course in 1967 and the Santa Ana Handicap the following year at Santa Anita Park. They were off and running.
Hap Proctor was hired to train some Glen Hill horses in 1982. He and his brother, Tom, worked side by side at the track while their uncle Allan was running the Florida farm. Allen also had a previous stint as a trainer.
Hap took over managing the farm in 1990 and ran it until 2013.
“It’s been good for the Proctors and good for the Lavins, I believe,” Proctor said. “Dad broke him in pretty well and he learned to put up with all our ornery and contrary ways. Once he learned how to deal with Dad, he was able to get along with all of us.”
Proctor added that he’s admired Lavin’s perseverance over the years and persistent willingness to take a shot, regardless of the apparent odds.
“Not everything he’s done has been a home run, but it never bothered him,” he said. “He took the hard knocks as well as anyone and just went on with it, trying something else the next year.
“When I left California, all my friends were worried. ‘What are you going to do when he’s not around anymore,’ they said. Mr. Lavin was in his 70s at the time.”
Proctor began chuckling, thinking back on those conversations.
“It’s silly now. Here I am, retired, and he’s still going.”