Day At The Track

LeVan building upon good 2020 season

07:40 AM 18 Mar 2021 NZDT
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Hank LeVan, harness racing
Hank LeVan
Conrad Photo

Among his family, Hank LeVan is not known as a patient person.

"If you were to ask my wife or my mother, I have no patience," LeVan said with a laugh. "They tell me that I'm a terrible person to shop for because if I need something, even if Christmas or my birthday is just a week away, I just go get it as opposed to waiting."

When it comes to harness racing, though, LeVan knows patience is a virtue. The 26-year-old is in his second season as a trainer-driver in Ohio and is hoping to build upon last year's numbers. In 2020, LeVan led the Buckeye fairs circuit with training purses of $167,636 and finished tied for third in wins with 31. He notched 38 victories as a driver, fifth best.

Overall, he won 45 races as a driver and 38 as a trainer.

This year, LeVan has been driving his stable's horses at Miami Valley Raceway and Northfield Park. He has four horses in action now out of a stable of 17.

"I've really enjoyed it," LeVan said. "We haven't had the best start for 2021, not maybe as I would have liked, but the horses are doing OK. We just need a little more luck probably. I've always enjoyed working with the horses and now to be able to do it for a living is really kind of a dream come true."

LeVan's family has been involved in harness racing for more than five decades. In his younger days, LeVan was more active in livestock showing and judging, but his participation in racing began to increase during the summer after his junior year in college. His grandfather, Herb, needed help at the fairs and LeVan decided to jump in.

"I didn't have a job at the time, and I figured it would be neat to spend some time with him," LeVan said. "I started out just grooming horses. That fall I went back to college. I set a little money aside and told my dad (Louie) that if he was all right with it maybe we could buy a yearling together. We went to the Ohio Selected Jug Sale and bought one and ever since then it's kind of snowballed."

Cursive L, named for the letter featured on the family's racing colors, was trained by LeVan's grandfather and gave LeVan his first win as a driver in 2017 at the Ottawa County Fair. He has added 70 wins since then.

"In an ideal world, I would love to get to the point where I could drive every night at one of the tracks in Ohio and have a stable of horses of our own as well," LeVan said. "That would be the long-term goal. I hope the catch driving can pick up.

"I know it's a really tough colony here and it seems like every year somebody new comes. They're talent guys and they've been doing it a lot longer than I have. I've got to wait my turn and hopefully things will open up."

As for the stable, LeVan has nine 2-year-olds among his group. He hopes several can compete in the Ohio Sire Stakes, with others going to the Buckeye Stallion Series and the fairs.

"I really enjoy the (young horses) and watching them progress," LeVan said. "Sometimes it can be frustrating, but the ones that pan out make it really fun. You have to be patient. There are some that I like real well, but I have to remind myself it's a long summer and you don't get paid to qualify. It's a fine line to have them ready."

LeVan, who has a master's degree in agricultural communication, extension and leadership from Ohio State, would like to see his training and driving numbers continue to improve, but has not set specific goals. Last year, he earned $306,078 in purses as a driver and $284,066 as a trainer. LeVan drove nearly all the horses he trained, with his father driving the remainder.

"I enjoy the fact I get to do this with my family," said LeVan, who is the oldest of six children. "Family is important to me, just being able to spend time with dad and my other siblings have become a little more involved since I've been doing it, and being able to talk to grandpa.

"I also enjoy the competitiveness of it. If I ever made my mind up and said I wanted to do something, I didn't want to fall short; I wanted to make sure I get the most out of everything. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't, but I never wanted to be average at anything."

As with many Ohio natives, LeVan would one day like to have a horse that could compete in the famed Little Brown Jug at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in Ohio.

"That would be awesome," he said. "But we're still a small fish in a big pond. That takes time; the right horses and the right people around you. Hopefully someday."

Someday, with a little patience.

by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA 



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