Magna Entertainment chairman Frank Stronach went two-for-three as a Thoroughbred owner in Saturday's Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs with a couple of nail-biting finishes. But the real drama unfolded in the winner's circle after the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), when Stronach was presented a trophy by National Thoroughbred Racing Association commissioner Tim Smith.
On Nov. 3, Stronach's seven racetracks joined 15 others in announcing their intentions to leave NTRA at the end of this year. Smith, to no avail, had met with Magna officials the week before to try to convince them to remain in the fold.
The irony wasn't lost on NBC Sports commentators, who quickly noted the friction between Stronach and the NTRA. The exchange was described as "cold" and "awkward" in some media accounts, but Smith said that wasn't the case at all.
"I had a brief and informal but cordial conversation with Frank Stronach earlier in the day," Smith said. "We even had a laugh about the location of the meeting -- a fourth-floor men's room. I turned around, and there was Frank."
Stronach told Smith his three areas of concern are direct election of NTRA board members, definition of the scope and mandate of the NTRA, and a greater focus on a free-enterprise policy. Smith said headway has been made on all three counts, and that Stronach has indicated he would "take the high road" and be constructive.
Smith said he expected the media to feast on the irony of the trophy presentation. "I knew people would at least make mention of the coincidence, but for one day a year, I hoped the focus could be on the sport."
The exchange wasn't unique. For example, twice in the 1980s, NFL commissioner Pete Rosell had to present a Super Bowl trophy to Los Angeles Raiders owner Al Davis, who had sued the NFL on several occasions.
The Breeders' Cup Juvenile was the final leg of the new "NTRA Two-Year-Old Challenge." Seven of the 14 starters in the Juvenile -- A P Valentine, Arabian Light, Burning Roma, City Zip, Flame Thrower, Trailthefox, and Yonaguska -- were eligible for a $300,000 bonus with a victory.
The winner was Stronach Stables' Macho Uno, who wasn't eligible. Though he had to present a Breeders' Cuy trophy to Stronach, Smith didn't have to present a check from the NTRA.
One of the seven NTRA-series horses in the Juvenile would have had to win to be eligible for the $1-million bonus tied to a victory in next year's Kentucky Derby (gr. I)
In other Breeders' Cup-related news, on Nov. 1, the NTRA ran a four-page half color, half black and white insert in USA Today to preview the Breeders' Cup championship. The insert included an article on the Breeders' Cup Ultra Pick 6 and a list of wagering locations. The lone advertisement came from the TV Games Network, which is an NTRA marketing partner.
A 12-page "Fan Guide" handed out at Churchill on Breeders' Cup day featured ads from The Racing Network, NBC Sports, RCA, Breeders' Cup Ltd., TVG, Equibase Co., the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Taylor Made Farms. The back cover went to West Point Thoroughbreds.