There were early hints of Leavitt's acumen. At a Baltimore military school, he was named the most efficient noncommissioned officer. For most of his growing-up years, Alan's family lived in horsey Hanover where his father gravitated into the mail-order business. Selling what? "One-and two-dollar junk that didn't work," says Leavitt. His youth was marked by a "deep sense of insecurity. My father kept saying we were going to the poorhouse and I believed him." After getting his B.A. degree in English from Harvard, he worked for his father. He says he was so embarrassed with his line of work that when people asked what he did, he said, "Import, export." When he decided to go into horses, the old man said it was silly. Nonetheless, Alan spent $1,600 on a mare, which turned out to be a silly move.
His first foray into syndication came in 1964 when a prominent Hanover farm owner, Mrs. Helen Buck, decided to sell Overtrick for $450,000. "She wanted to send out 10 telegrams," says Leavitt, "and could only think of nine names, so she added me." Leavitt called her and said he would like 24 hours to try to get the money. The next morning, having made little headway, Leavitt got a call from Norman Woolworth, president of Stoner Creek Stud.
"Congratulations," boomed the horseman. "No, no," said Leavitt, "I can't do it." "Sure you can," said Woolworth. "I'll take a share." And when Leavitt further protested that he guessed he didn't know anything about syndicating, Woolworth said he would lend him a copy of a syndication agreement to serve as a guide. Leavitt picked it up from Woolworth at a Chinese restaurant. That was the turning point—for Alan and for harness racing.
Among his deals—he has never failed to get a horse syndicated nor has a deal he engineered ever lost money—have been $2.7 million for Oil Burner when others were thinking in terms of $1.8 million; $1.4 million for Nansemond; Hambletonian winner Speedy Crown for $1 million; and the first standardbred ever to be syndicated for $1 million, Noble Victory.
But growing up in Hanover was not a happy time for Leavitt and he dislikes going there even now. He thinks he was shunned because he was Jewish and he continues to think that. In an article by Charlie Leerhsen in a trade publication, Hoofbeats, Leavitt attacked the Hambletonian Society (an influential governing board in harness racing) for being "openly anti-Semitic." That, he says, is why he's not a member. He contends that Del Miller, a director of the group, "suggested my name twice but couldn't get a second." Miller says that is not true, but that he did mention that "sometime we should consider Alan Leavitt." In a fit of pique the other night, Leavitt went through a list of the members of the society, noting those with few or no horses, those with favored family connections, those with no visible qualifications and one who is "a dedicated drunk."
Among other Leavitt opinions that nobody asked for:
?Two-heat racing of 2-year-olds in hot weather in Goshen, N.Y. is ridiculous. Also, lack of information on programs there makes betting "a shell game."
?Classified racing, in which a horse that wins is moved up to the next higher class, fosters cheating. That complaint stings a couple of the biggest tracks in the country—Roosevelt and Yonkers.
?Don't speak ill of the dead—but then, warming to the task, Leavitt attacks the late George Morton Levy, the founder of Roosevelt, for "making himself rich but never doing anything for harness racing."
?His stallion Oil Burner is the first great one to ever stand in New Jersey, an observation that undoubtedly irks every owner who has ever had a stallion in the state.