These Are Tough Times

by Ed Meyer

posted on March 6, 2009 in News | No Comments >>

For many years we have heard of the scary giant known as Magna. You know, the company that hires some of the brightest minds in business, and one month later lets them go… I don’t know the man. I am aware that he was very successful outside of racing, but during these past years his tracks have been under fire.

The owner of Maryland’s thoroughbred tracks, filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday and essentially put all its racetracks up for sale, including Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness Stakes.

Asked whether Magna would sell Pimlico, Laurel and California’s storied Santa Anita Park, Frank Stronach, Magna’s chairman and chief executive, said in a brief telephone interview, “If the price is right.”

Heavily burdened with debt, Magna has lost $638 million since 2002 as track attendance fell and casino and slots venues siphoned off wagering revenue. At the same time, some critics said mismanagement and bad timing played a part in Magna’s financial struggles.

“It’s an unfortunate and sad circumstance,” said Timothy Capps, a former Maryland Jockey Club official who is now executive-in-residence at the University of Louisville’s Equine Industry Program. “At least it’s out there, and we’ll see how it unfolds. The marketplace will have its day.”

When Frank Stronach first came into racing, the people were happy. I never really heard one bad word except from a longtime race tracker who said he looked like Hannibal ” The Cannibal” Lecter. With that being said, the future looked bright. This man, who had made his mark in the Canadian business world, was going to come in and uplift racing.

I don’t think it was all his fault. Blame the timing, blame the change in the sport, the way we perceive racing. I have to wonder. What if he came into the game 40 years ago? Would it have made a difference? Nobody will ever know. When the economy is bleak and times are tough, this chapter looks to be closing.

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