He orders dinner to be sent up by a neighborhood deli and asks for skim milk. "No skim," says the man at the deli, "only pasteurized." Whereupon Leavitt feels it necessary to set the man straight by explaining that virtually all milk in this country is pasteurized. The man is not enthralled to learn this. It often seems as if Leavitt intends to right every one of the world's wrongs, whether it's any of his business or not.
Murray Brown, who was fired by Leavitt 10� years ago and now is an executive with Hanover Shoe Farms, says, "Alan seems to go out of his way to alienate people." True. There is, for example, a certain USTA public-relations man whom Leavitt cannot abide. In fact, Leavitt has little contact with the man and no real reason to talk about him. Still, he cannot resist remarking to an acquaintance, "That man should have been writing publicity for Mussolini."
Farm manager Jim Harrison tries to be a voice of reason. "Alan is six lengths ahead of everyone else in this business," he says, "but I think he's so straightforward that he invites trouble." Even with people who break out with red necks at the mere mention of Leavitt, the words "smart" and "honest" inevitably arise when he is discussed. Howard Beissinger, trainer and 10% owner of Speedy Somolli, says, "When Alan tells you something, take it to the bank." And Frank G. Daniels, a Nova Scotia horseman, says, "I would rather buy from Alan Leavitt over the phone without ever having seen the horse than to see for myself." Says Leavitt, "You've got to tell the truth every time you open your mouth, not just when it suits you." But even with his outspoken ways, he insists, "I can be absolutely charming."
But, Alan, charm is not really your strongest suit, is it? "Well, I suppose we all see ourselves with a good deal of editing," he says.
Those who would like to edit Leavitt out of the harness business can forget it, even though there is chatter that he may have overextended himself financially. Says famed horseman Del Miller, "When you build an empire, you have to realize empires fall." In particular, Miller wonders how Leavitt can buy so much when prices for land and animals are so high.
The president of a prominent breeding farm grumps, "He must have a different kind of auditor than I do. I don't know how he does it. Maybe he's smarter than I am." Owner-trainer-driver Joe O'Brien is asked if Leavitt tends to overpay for horses. "Definitely," he says. Many think that Leavitt may have stepped on himself this time by paying too much for Speedy Somolli in a year when there are several other outstanding trotters. Leavitt differs. "Only the whole world was trying to buy Speedy Somolli," he says. "A lot of people have $2 million but I'm the only one who has Speedy." Lawyer Blasband says of Leavitt's situation, "He has one terrific balance sheet."
"People are just jealous when others do things," says Leavitt. "If you're a mover, they're critical. In a flock of sheep, everyone looks the same." Then he smiles his wary little smile—those few who know him well say he mistrusts every relationship—and gazes out across the city lights. In conversation, he constantly drills a listener with his eyes, not waiting for an answer, just looking. Hard. Leavitt doesn't blink first. He's in the throes of ending his second marriage and he says of his life, "I'm just not very happy." He used to hit the discos—one of his horses, Salvation, is named after such a place—and boozed too much. Today there is no liquor and seemingly little joy in his life, except when he deals with horses.
"It does seem like a horse is worth more money when you're up here on the 40th floor than when you're looking up at streets filled with trash and garbage from a one-room flat," says Leavitt. "I know that. But I always wanted to deal in high-priced horses. And let me tell you, it's a narcotic. When you start living on the high wires, you can't ever come down."
Basically, Leavitt simply is trying to buy and syndicate the best horses in a sport where breeding is almost everything. He's not much for detailed examinations of horses in which he is interested. "It's like looking at a girl," he says. "Right away you know what you think." In the case of future stallions, he will contact the owners. Or, as he likes to put it, they will call him. In the fall of 1976, a Woonsocket, R.I. lawyer, Paul Fontaine, bought No No Yankee for $18,500. Last March, he called Leavitt and heard Alan's estimate of what he could syndicate the horse for—$2.5 million.
Not long ago, Leavitt agreed to purchase two mares, both purportedly in foal, for a sky-high $400,000. At the last minute, two things happened: owner Bob Mumma of Harrisburg, Pa. decided he really didn't want to part with Somolli, the dam of Speedy Somolli; then Pizzaz, the second mare, turned out not to be in foal. At that point Leavitt was entirely free to walk away from the deal or at least to try to get a downward price adjustment in view of the condition of Pizzaz. But he didn't. Recalls Mumma, "I was really hoping he'd try to change the deal because that would have given me the chance to get out of it. But he was smart enough to know that." Several years ago Leavitt paid $325,000 for Tarport Hap—at the time, the highest price ever for a mare. "It's an embarrassment for a rich man to have poor mares," says Leavitt, referring, he insists, not to himself.