Magna Entertainment chairman Frank Stronach, in comments made to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Manager's Club Tuesday night in Lexington, indicated his intention to create a circuit of "super tracks," and called for more democracy within the Thoroughbred industry.
Stronach, who on two occasions during his talk took calls on his cellular telephone to bid on horses at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale -- "It's only monies," he told his agent during one conversation -- spoke for more than an hour and fielded numerous questions from the audience. He was at the podium the longest of any speaker at the monthly club gatherings in recent memory.
The owner of seven racetracks said he has trademarked "North American Super Tracks," or "NASTRACK." He indicated that Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park, his two top facilities, would be "super tracks," in what appears to be a plan to initiate his own Thoroughbred racing league.
His plans to turn Santa Anita, located in Arcadia, Calif., into a huge entertainment center are on track, though he said the regulatory process has slowed him a bit. As for Gulfstream, located in Hallandale, Fla., he said: "It's going to be knocked down completely and rebuilt from scratch."
Those plans include a new turf course, as he had announced before, and apparently a new grandstand and turf club.
Stronach said he plans to add "three or four more" tracks to his fold in the next couple of months. He has had at least discussions with officials at Emerald Downs, Fairmount Park, and Retama Park. He also said it is crucial that Northern California have a second racetrack and training facility to safely accommodate the horse population there.
In response to questions about why he intends to pull his tracks from the NTRA after this year, Stronach again pointed to three reasons: the need for what he calls a democratically elected board, a clear mandate for the organization, and a commitment to free enterprise.
"I couldn't get through to (NTRA leaders)," Stronach said. "But all of a sudden, I'm the bad guy. I didn't do anything wrong. I want to be a part of it, but clubs don't work. I really don't see a commitment to change that."
NTRA officials have said they have addressed, or are in the process of addressing, his concerns. In fact, NTRA commissioner Tim Smith said Monday he had a cordial, productive discussion with Stronach on Breeders' Cup Day.
On the other hand, Stronach did say he hopes "people will come to the table and address the issues." The Mid-Atlantic racing associations that also announced plans to leave the NTRA had nothing to do with his decision, Stronach said. "We're not in cahoots," he said. "I really haven't met those people."
Stronach called for an NTRA board of directors elected by "trainers, grooms, owners -- they would have to have some connection with the horse industry." He indicated the current system, whereby industry officials in each region choose their board representative, doesn't go far enough.
Stronach, who left the Ontario Jockey Club board several years ago because he believed it was too much like a club, also targeted the Breeders' Cup and The Jockey Club. "What gives them the godly right to be a custodian of the industry?" he said of The Jockey Club. "They don't believe in the people."
When asked about the Breeders' Cup mandate that only NTRA-member tracks can host the championship series, Stronach said: "We're large enough to do our own thing...You can create your own baseball league if you want to."
He has indicated in the past that he plans to offer a racing series that would include Magna-owned tracks.
In other comments, Stronach said he loves the horse racing and breeding business, and intends to put horses, and people who work with them, first.