(Originally published in the July 9, 2011 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
Leonard Lavin, who started his Glen Hill Farm Thoroughbred operation 40 years ago, promised his daughter Carol back around 1980 that he wouldn’t make a horseplayer out of her son Craig, Lavin’s first grandchild. He did, however, take his grandson, age 4 at the time, to Sportsman’s Park near his Chicago home without her knowledge for a day at the races.
“What I did was make a horse lover out of him,” said Lavin.
Today Craig Bernick, 33, serves the Glen Hill outfit as president and COO, planning matings, buying stock, and traveling coast to coast to oversee the racing stable for his 91-year-old grandfather, who serves as chairman emeritus of Alberto VO5, the hair-care products company he founded. And today, as usual over the past 40 years, the rust-and-black colors of Glen Hill are being carried into winner’s circles by a top-flight runner.
Banned, a 3-year-old colt bought by Bernick at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale, is stamping himself as a dominant turf runner, having won in succession this season the American Turf Stakes (gr. IIT) and Jefferson Cup Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs. He will next compete in the July 16 Virginia Derby (gr. IIT), where he will be tested for distance at 10 furlongs.
Glen Hill has always been a family operation. For years, Willard Proctor trained Lavin’s horses, and today Proctor’s sons have vital roles in Glen Hill. Tom Proctor trains the Glen Hill horses, while Hap Proctor manages Lavin’s Glen Hill Farm near Ocala.
“I can’t add anything to what they do,” said Bernick. “I learned the business from them as much as from my grandpa. My job is to get them better horses, be in charge of the matings, solidify the broodmare band, take the lead in going to the sales, and work with Tom on which horses will run where.”
Bernick is on the road more than 200 days each year, going to sales in Florida, Kentucky, and New York, and following the racing stable from coast to coast. Along with Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms’ Donato Lanni, he develops short lists at auctions that are then turned over to Tom Proctor for his input before bidding begins. Bernick, a self-described sports nut, has immersed himself in the horse business.
“I’ve always been very close to my grandpa,” Bernick said. “If he was a sailor, I would have taken up sailing. If he was a golfer, I would have embraced that. The trip to Sportsman’s Park wasn’t my first to the races. I was at a race when (Glen Hill-owned) Relaunch ran against John Henry, but I was in a stroller so I don’t remember it. I do recall picking six or seven winners out of the program at Sportsman’s and grandpa letting me keep the money.”
Even the operation’s breeding strategies have been family-oriented. For years most of the Glen Hill mares were sent to Relaunch, who proved a top turf runner while racing for Glen Hill in 1979-80. Following his death, Glen Hill retired two sons of Roberto, Repriced and Major Impact, to their stallion barn. One Dreamer, a daughter of Relaunch, gave Glen Hill one of its greatest racing thrills when she won the 1994 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I).
Among the 30 broodmares at Glen Hill are graded stakes winner Rich in Spirit and Eversmile, a half sister to 1995 champion grass mare Possibly Perfect. Eversmile’s 3-year-old colt Coil, who was sold privately to trainer Bob Baffert, won the Affirmed Handicap (gr. III) last month. She has a 2-year-old Eddington filly and a yearling filly by Arch and is back in foal to Kitten’s Joy. Rich in Spirit, who earned $606,066 racing as a Glen Hill homebred, has a yearling filly by Indian Charlie that Hap Proctor is high on, a Tiznow colt by her side, and is in foal to Malibu Moon.
In addition to Banned, who has already earned $299,076, Glen Hill is racing the 3-year-old Medaglia d’Oro filly Marketing Mix, who is twice stakes-placed and most recently ran third, two lengths behind eventual Queen’s Plate winner Inglorious in the Woodbine Oaks - Presented by Budweiser. Other 2011 stakes winners for Glen Hill are Dilemma, who won the Daytona Stakes (gr. IIIT) New Year’s Day, five years after winning the Sunny Slope Stakes; and Extensive, who won a stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and is slated to run in the Oceanside Stakes opening day at Del Mar.
Although not necessarily by plan, Glen Hill seems to race quite a bit on the grass. Repriced and Major Impact might have something to do with that, and trainer Proctor does as well.
“Tom would much rather train a grass horse than a dirt horse,” Bernick noted. “He’s won nine stakes on the grass this year, and I think he’s entered two stakes on dirt. He thinks grass horses last longer, and Eversmile has a phenomenal pedigree for that.”
Bernick is recently engaged, which will help the sport.
“My fiance’s family have signed up for ADW accounts already,” he said. “I’m trying to do my part.”