Respected US racing veterinarian Gary Lavin dies at 83

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Renowned US racing veterinarian Gary Lavin has died at the age of 83 at his home in Louisville, Kentucky.

Lavin had been afflicted by cancer for several years, but had successfully maintained quality of life and had been planning when he would return to his second home in South Carolina, the US Jockey Club said. He died on February 27.

Tributes have flowed from the racing world, indicative of Lavin’s standing in the industry. Lavin was a vice-chairman of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and a former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, and a director of Keeneland Association. In 1994, Lavin became the first veterinarian elected to The Jockey Club, and he also has served as a steward of that organization. He has also been on the boards of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the Breeders’ Cup.

Lavin led the decision by Grayson-Jockey Club to make a special call for research on Shock Wave Therapy. He recognized that the beneficial new treatment had the potential downside, if misused, to eliminate pain without a horse being cured and therefore place them at risk of injury. The resultant research project at Iowa State University guided racing commissions’ parameters for how long before a race the therapy must not be used.

Lavin was born on November 6, 1937, in New Orleans. He grew up in racing, as the son of Allan (Doc) Lavin, racing secretary at Churchill Downs and also at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Lavin graduated from veterinary college at the University of Pennsylvania in 1962. He established himself as a racetrack practitioner in Louisville while also working at Warner L. Jones Jr.’s Hermitage Farm and for clients in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and in Indiana. Over the years, other long-term associations included working for such clients as John Ed Anthony and Peter Willmott. In that capacity, Lavin and his Longfield Farm were involved with such horses as Anthony’s back-to-back 1982-83 Preakness winners, Pine Bluff and champion Prairie Bayou, as well as the noted future stallion Cox’s Ridge, plus Demon’s Begone and Eddington. Also, Angel Fever, raised at Longfield, became the dam of Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus.

Colleague Dr Larry Bramlage said that “if you set out to meld ‘country scientist’ and ‘southern gentleman’ the product that exited the forge would be A. Gary Lavin, VMD”.

“Whether discussing a difficult case or one of his passions, such as The Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, words never came quickly and were never wasted: ‘ … Well … if that is the best, we’ll do it!’ He certainly was one of the ‘Best.’ They don’t come along all that often,” Bramlage said.

Dell Hancock of Claiborne Farm said Lavin was a mentor. “Anything I have ever done for the horse was inspired by him,” added Hancock, who is chairman of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. Lavin served as vice-chairman for the foundation.

Breeder-owner John Ed Anthony said his relationship with Lavin began when Loblolly Stable first acquired Thoroughbreds in 1971, 50 years ago. “From that time forward Doc has been a key part of my life and experience in the industry. He nurtured and helped develop every prominent horse we campaigned, plus attended to the lesser stock with the finest skill, expertise and patience known to his profession.

“The Lavins’ Longfield Farm was our home base where mares, foals, and yearlings and layups were under his watchful eye as he and Betsy raised their fine family there. At the sales he was the critical advisor. I came to know of his kind, honest, and helpful regard for the horses and the people associated with them. He was always optimistic, positive, and encouraging. His honesty and integrity were without question. There are few people one can say they trust absolutely, yet Doc was such a man. Doc lived life fully, but more importantly, calling this fine man friend was a high honor that I am proud to have had in my life.”

Over the many years they owned Longfield Farm in Goshen, Kentucky, he and his family bred major winners, raised horses for the commercial market, and managed bloodstock for clients.

Family members also became deeply involved in the sport in individual capacities. Betsy Lavin served on the Kentucky Racing Commission, one son, Allan, runs Lavin Bloodstock, and another, Kevin, owns Lavin (Equine) Insurance. Lavin Bloodstock bred the sentimentally named Star of Goshen, whose son Pioneerof the Nile sired Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, etc.

Lavin received many honors, including his alma mater’s Bellwether Medal for Distinguished Leadership and the Thoroughbred Club of America’s Annual Testimonial Dinner guest designation. He was a Distinguished Life Member of the AAEP, recipient of the Distinguished Practitioner Award of the Kentucky Equine Practitioners, and namesake of the Lavin Cup for Equine Welfare. The Lavin Cup was established in 1996 by the AAEP.

A private family burial will be held in Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation.

Dr A. Gary Lavin is survived by his wife of 60 years, Elizabeth (Betsy), sons Allan (Susan) and Kevin (Amy), and granddaughters (known by the family as “The Cousins”) Catherine, Alexandra, Elizabeth, Eleanor, Lulu, and Hattie.

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