Though he made no commitment to rejoin the National Thoroughbred Racing Association during a Sunday morning forum, Magna Entertainment chairman Frank Stronach said he'll be back in if the NTRA and Breeders' Cup, now joined in a strategic partnership, pledge to democratically elect officers.
Stronach also indicated he would be willing to represent Magna on the NTRA board should his tracks rejoin.
Though Stronach has been saying it for months, Breeders' Cup president D.G. Van Clief Jr. said there has been movement in regard to how Breeders' Cup board members are elected. The Breeders' Cup structure, and not necessarily the NTRA board, has been the sticking point with Stronach.
"My greatest problem has been with the Breeders' Cup board," Stronach said during a forum attended by about 200 people in the Turf Club at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla. "It cost $500 to nominate a horse, so It's kind of like buying a share. For every foal registered, you should get a vote."
In comments made after the meeting, Stronach again focused on racing's establishment, which he believes is to "clubbish." "What gives you the right to be on The Jockey Club (board)?" he said. "Some of those people don't even own horses."
Stronach, an award-winning Thoroughred owner and breeder who says he has invested $550 million in the industry, said it "might take a little time to get there"-perhaps a year-before the NTRA can move forward with almost full participation. In October, Magna's seven tracks were among the 22 that defected. The count now stands at 23.
Van Clief said the structure of the Breeders' Cup board, which now numbers 46 people, has been under review for a couple of years. There are six founding members, 14 representatives of breed associations, and 26 other members that can serve two consecutive three-year terms. They currently are elected by board members.
"We're updating the system to allow the stakeholders to vote for these positions," said Van Clief, who spent the better part of last week polling members of the Breeders' Cup executive committee. "In the next few days, we could be very close to a meeting of the minds. I think we can find a happy concurrence."
Bob Green, owner Philadelphia Park operator Greenwood Racing, left the door open to rejoin the NTRA "if the association gets back on track," he said. Philadelphia Park was one of about 10 Mid-Atlantic tracks that left the NTRA when Magna bowed out.
"There certainly appears to be overall progress toward a resolution," Green said.
NTRA board member Alan Foreman, chief executive of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said the issues that came up at the forum-governance, the NTRA's relationship with the TV Games Network, and operation of the wagering hub in Oregon-have been addressed for the most part. "We're here as observers," Foreman said. "But we've been addressing all of these issues for months. I don't think we're breaking any new ground here. We need to stop sending the message to the public that our industry is in disarray."
Stronach's forum proved quite popular. Owners and trainers got up to speak, though not necessarily about the NTRA. It was clear other issues, from purses to track surfaces, are on their minds.
Owner and breeder Don Zuckerman said unsafe track conditions have led to horse injuries and short fields. He also questioned the Breeders' Cup policy of awarding the Breeders' Cup championship only to NTRA-member tracks, and the complications involved in having a number of television and account wagering providers that aren't on the same page.
"Stop making it difficult for me to lose my money," Zuckerman said.
Trainer Happy Alter also claimed track superintendents "have become power-drunk" and don't put enough effort into ensuring safe racing surfaces. He claimed that all fuels the horse shortage.
In regard to Gulfstream Park, Stronach unveiled a sketch of what it will look like with a third racing surface (a 1 1/8-mile dirt track around the existing dirt track, which will be converted to a second turf course) and a new grandstand-clubhouse facility. There will be a shopping mall that will be connected to the racing facility.
Stronach said he plans to build a training facility in Boynton Beach, Fla., located about an hour from Gulfstream. The reconfiguration of the track will require the demolish of barns. Of the Gulfstream clubhouse and Turf Club, Stronach indicated he couldn't wait to tear it down to make it more functional.
In his comments, Stronach did indicate his desire to bring racing into the home. He called racing a "soft casino" that should be accessible throughout the world.