05/24/2013 3:19PM

Jay Hovdey: Glen Hill continues its fine line with Marketing Mix

Barbara D. Livingston
Marketing Mix makes her return to the races for Glen Hill Farm in the Gamely Handicap.

The Kentucky Derby victory of Orb placed a rightful spotlight on the inspiring history of the Phipps family stable, tracing its pre-World War II roots to the ongoing success of the current generation. At times, it sounded as if it was the last surviving family stable of a bygone era.

Not so, and thank goodness. Although it is becoming more and more difficult for succeeding generations to either operate or justify the continuation of a large Thoroughbred operation, there are those who try. One of them is the Glen Hill Farm of Leonard Lavin, who plans to celebrate his 92nd birthday in October, and has placed the ongoing legacy of the farm in the hands of his grandson Craig Bernick.

It was in 1955 Leonard Lavin and his late wife Bernice bought the fledging hair product company that became known as Alberto-Culver. They took it public in 1961, and in 2010 Alberto-Culver was sold to Unilever (Dove soap) for $3.7 billion.

Bernick had spent time with the company before shifting his energies full time to Glen Hill. As far as comparisons to the Phipps operation, however, he demurs.

“The Phippses are so much more accomplished than we are,” Bernick said. “They’ve got maybe 30 years on us, and they had such tremendous mares right from the start that they’ve been able to hold onto and cultivate those pedigrees for 75 years, with champions in every decade. Funnily enough, we’re still trying to get our first champion.”

It’s not like Glen Hill hasn’t come close.

Convenience did everything in her power to win a championship through her three remarkable seasons at the top of the game, at one time or another defeating champions Susan’s Girl, Turkish Trousers, Chou Croute and, most memorably, Typecast in their 1972 match race at Hollywood Park.

Header Card was among the nation’s top 2-year-old fillies of 1981 when she won the Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita. Relaunch was always a thorn in the side of top horses like John Henry, Flying Paster and Go West Young Man. One Dreamer shocked the best mares in training – narrowly defeating the Phipps family’s Heavenly Prize – when she upset the 1994 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, while major stakes winners Star of the Crop, Uniformity, Top Rung, and Right Honourable all helped keep Glen Hill’s name in lights.

Just last year, had things gone a step or two differently in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, Glen Hill’s second-place finisher Marketing Mix would have collected the Eclipse Award instead of victorious Zagora. Instead, the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro had to settle for a season during which she won the Rodeo Drive (formerly the Yellow Ribbon) at Santa Anita, two stakes in Canada, and finished second in the Beverly D. in addition to the Breeders’ Cup

On Monday, in the $250,000 Gamely at a mile and one-eighth on the grass, Glen Hill trainer Tom Proctor is bringing Marketing Mix out for her first race since the Breeders’ Cup. The mare was ready to run three weeks ago on Kentucky Derby Day in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, but her people decided the rain-soaked course was not the best place to begin a campaign that hopefully will lead to another crack at the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita this fall.

Glen Hill was also being represented in the Arlington Classic in his hometown of Chicago on Saturday, after which Bernick will head to Southern California to welcome Marketing Mix back to the races.

“She’s definitely put on weight since last fall and carries her flesh really well,” Bernick said. “This winter is the first time I thought she had filled out and looked pretty. She’s always had a great walk and a big, strong shoulder, but she wasn’t one you’d maybe pick out of the group. Now I think she’s come into her own.

“She wasn’t going to like that course at Churchill,” Bernick noted. “As far as the Gamely, I don’t know about a Grade 1 at a mile and one-eighth first race back. She’ll need to run her best race to win it, because there’s too many good horses in there. But it’s always nice when you run a horse that you know if they run their best race they are a likely winner.”

Arrayed against Marketing Mix in the Gamely will be the major stakes winners Tiz Flirtatious, Halo Dolly, and Lady of Shamrock in a race that should set the table for some stimulating sport for the division.

“She was ready to run a couple weeks ago and has had a couple works since, so she should be ready to go,” Bernick said. “If she’s not I can’t arm wrestle Tom, because he’s too big, although I’m pretty sure I can outrun him.”

With his grandfather’s blessing, Bernick, 35, took on the role of Glen Hill Farm president in 2008 and with it assumed the mantle Lavin had worn since 1966, when he established the Florida farm in the wilds of Ocala. At about the same time the Lavin family’s association with the Proctor family commenced, with Willard L. Proctor training at the track and his brother Alan running the farm. Tom and his brother Hap, sons of W.L., provide continuity to a partnership that has now lasted nearly half a century.

Bernick considered himself part of the mix from about the time he could stand and nurse. While most adult males of his generation look back fondly on pre-teen memories of Little League, pee-wee hockey, and summers at the lake, Bernick clings to images of Racing Form charts, news clips, and racing video featuring the Glen Hill Farm runners of his youth.

“Every school vacation, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter we went to Ocala,” Bernick said. “Since I was 15 I spent at least a week at Del Mar with my grandfather. It’s pretty unique to be 35 and still have a grandfather I can speak to about the horse business, or anything.”

While Bernick can recite with abiding respect the history of Glen Hill, chapter and verse, he is determined to make sure the farm is still a force in years to come. The Glen Hill operation of the 1980’s and 90’s owed a lot of its stability to the In Reality stallion Relaunch, sire of One Dreamer, Skywalker, Waquoit, and With Anticipation, among many others. Upon the death of Relaunch in 1996 Glen Hill was left without both the ready-made access to their own outstanding stallion, as well as the income stream derived from his service to outside mares. Bernick’s ultimate goal is to develop the next Relaunch upon which Glen Hill fortunes can thrive. He has the advantage of Leonard Lavin at his back.

“He’s set a fantastic example, and he has the battle scars in the business to prove it,” Bernick said. “He’s been a pretty tough boss, though. I spent the first couple of years trying to prove to him how much I could do. Now I find myself listening to him more than I ever did. Between us I think that more often than not we come up with the right way to go. For me it’s gone from the pleasure of working closely with my grandfather to becoming a full-time job and an obsession.”