By Julie H. Sarno
Gayle Van Leer parlayed a girlhood interest in horses into a lifelong career. As a girl, she sought out every opportunity to be with horses and ride. The Carmel Valley resident has made a lifelong career of buying and selling horses and managing racing stables and breeding stock for clients.
Van Leer is a bloodstock agent, buying and selling thoroughbred racehorses for clients. As the term "bloodstock agent" is not part of most peoples' everyday vocabulary, Van Leer defined it: "The best way to translate it is that I am a real estate agent for horses. I put buyers and sellers together. I give advice to owners about which horses to buy."
Van Leer remembers retooling the racing stable of Kathleen (Katie) Kennedy and her brother, John Michael Kennedy. The R L Stable owners are best known for campaigning Runaway Dancer, a stakes-winning gray gelding with a come-from-behind running style who excelled in long turf races.
Retired last year at age 9, his wins included the 2007 Sunset Handicap and 2005 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap at Hollywood Park and the 2003 Carleton F. Burke Handicap at Santa Anita. At Del Mar, he won the 2006 Escondido Handicap and finished second in the 2007 Del Mar Handicap.
Van Leer changed the R L Stable operation from a losing proposition to a winning one. Katie Kennedy was quoted in a 2006 article in The Blood-Horse as saying: "When my stepfather (the late Bob Dudley) had R L Stable, he got in with a sort of bad trainer. He had 32 horses, and he had overpaid for them. They weren't winning hardly at all. Gayle came in and within two months she had turned the whole stable around. We're indebted to her. She's very hard-working."
Van Leer and her younger sister, Ann, grew up in the Santa Barbara area. They lived near a school for special needs children, which featured a therapeutic riding program. The sisters volunteered there, receiving riding lessons in return. When the school was sold to UC Santa Barbara, the equine property was subsequently used for students who wanted to bring their horses to college with them.
The sisters started a business feeding and taking care of horses. Then they began exercising the horses and showing them for their owners.
One day, while warming up a horse at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara, Van Leer was hailed by a person who asked her to exercise racehorses at his farm. The job hours and especially the pay sounded good to Van Leer, who accepted the position.
Soon she was assistant manager of the operation, known as Berkshire Farm. One of her responsibilities was preparing horses for 2-year-olds-in-training sales. Van Leer met and worked with prominent California bloodstock agent Rollin Baugh, a director of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and a Rancho Santa Fe resident. Then she ran a public breaking and training operation known as Fairbrook Farm. Soon she gravitated to the racetrack, where she exercised horses for trainer Neil Drysdale.
She then spent eight years as an assistant trainer at San Luis Rey Downs in Bonsall. Her clients included Drysdale and other top trainers such as Gary Jones, David Hofmans, Joe Manzi and John Russell. She worked with and prepared Roving Boy, later voted 2-year-old champion colt of 1982, for the races.
Van Leer became well-known when she worked for Golden Eagle Farm owners Betty Mabee and her late husband, John. During Van Leer's 8 1/2-year tenure with the Mabees, from 1988 through early 1997, they garnered their first of three Eclipse Awards as leading breeders in 1991 and topped the North American owner earnings list in 1992. While with the Mabees, she worked with Best Pal, a winner of many graded stakes who retired with $5,668,245 in earnings.
After her time with the Mabees, Van Leer began her own bloodstock agency, Gayle Van Leer Thoroughbred Services. She also promotes thoroughbred ownership, and develops and maintains the Web site www.calracing.com for a statewide marketing effort.
The career she forged for herself requires a lot of traveling to Los Angeles racetracks and horse sales all around the country, but she gets to call the North County coastal area home.