By T. D. Thornton
Citing a lack of consistent racing opportunities to develop horses through the maiden and early-level allowance ranks in southern California, Glen Hill Farm will be shipping its Tom Proctor-trained outfit back east for the winter and will reevaluate its future participation at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and Santa Anita Park.
Glen Hill president Craig Bernick announced the move in a Nov. 25 Twitter posting, citing how “frustrating” it has been for the outfit to repeatedly get shut out because condition book races either overfill or don’t get carded.
In a Monday phone interview, Bernick detailed to TDN his reasons behind the move and what the short and longer-term plans are for the racing side of the Ocala, Florida-based breeding business.
“I just felt from our own perspective, we just had an impossible time getting horses in races,” Bernick said. “Either they didn’t go, or they overfilled. And I know racetracks want full fields because they handle well, and I think that’s important because we all need a great wagering menu for horseplayers. But at the same time, it’s a difficult place to run when you’re trying to develop horses.
“We race a lot of homebreds, and frankly, they’re not all superstars,” Bernick continued. “And horses that aren’t top, top quality and don’t get through their conditions quickly to run in stakes, there are better places to run them than in California. Back east, good horses can run in New York, Monmouth, Delaware, Maryland. You can ship to Pennsylvania and you can even ship to Woodbine. In California, you’re [isolated] there.”
Bernick traced this week’s decision to early 2016, when Glen Hill “ran out of horsepower” on the SoCal circuit and initially cut back its involvement in the region through the end of that year. But in early 2017, after shipping a single horse west for a Santa Anita stakes race, Bernick reconsidered and sent a string of 10 horses trained by Proctor to Del Mar with the intention of remaining in the region through the Breeders’ Cup and Del Mar’s turf-centric autumn meet.
“We had a decent enough year,” Bernick said, citing a 6-2-5 record from 26 SoCal starts. “Two horses won two each, and then two others broke their maidens. We got a horse sold, we got a horse claimed, and a few hurt. But it was very frustrating, especially at Del Mar, as far as getting horses in races.
“There were numerous races in the book that didn’t go, and we flew some horses out there specifically for races in the first condition book that never got to run,” Bernick continued. “There was a horse that we ran in the first maiden special weight race on the turf. He ran third but didn’t get back in a race the rest of the meet. He was also-eligible, didn’t make the overnight, excluded, that type of thing.
“I’d like to say we’ll come back with horses that fit, but it wouldn’t be a place that I’d want to send maidens,” Bernick summed up. “At least for us, it’s not a good place for horses just getting started and developed, because they lack opportunities.”
Bernick said the remaining SoCal horses will return to Glen Hill Farm for the winter.
“We’ll race this winter at Fair Grounds, Tampa, and some at Gulfstream. We’ll kind of use the farm to lay the horses up between races, go through the winter that way, and then in the spring, we’ll base out of Fair Hill. And Tom [Proctor] and I will have the discussion again when Del Mar rolls around if we want to go again,” Bernick said.
When asked what the SoCal tracks could do to re-ignite his interest, Bernick said, “I think they need to look hard at their horse population and the way they write their condition books. They need to get more horses through that first condition so they can fill the rest of the [condition] book. And it’s important that the owners’ and trainers’ groups are open to change in addition to the racetracks providing more opportunities for the horses. It would be wrong to blame it 100% on the racetracks. Those groups need to come to the table, too.”
Glen Hill Farm was founded 1966 by self-made entrepreneur Leonard H. Lavin. The business has produced more than 80 stakes winners, including One Dreamer, who upset the 1994 GI Breeders’ Cup Distaff at 47-1.
In 2015, Lavin was honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit for his decades of service within the Thoroughbred industry. He died at age 97 Aug. 2, 2017. Bernick, who is Lavin’s grandson, has overseen the daily operations of Glen Hill since 2008.