Magna Entertainment (MEC) chairman Frank Stronach said on Wednesday he has no plans to cancel the open forum he has scheduled at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 14, dismissing the suggestion made Tuesday night by breeder John Gaines in a speech at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club in Lexington, Ky.
Stronach scheduled the forum in response to public criticism over his decision to withdraw seven racetracks owned by Magna from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Gaines said more structured discussions with NTRA officials could prove far more positive. "The Gulfstream summit is the wrong format, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons, and can only give aid and comfort to racing's enemies," Gaines said in his speech. Gaines also strongly urged Stronach to rejoin the NTRA.
Stronach said he will meet in Lexington this Sunday with some NTRA board members over dinner, but that he fully intends to go ahead with plans for the Jan. 14 gathering at Gulfstream. He disagreed with Gaines' assessment of how the forum will play out. "John is entitled to his opinion, and I'm entitled to mine," he said.
Stronach said he, Doug Donn, and Jack Liebau most likely will make opening remarks at the forum and that Stronach would serve as moderator. "What's wrong with talking?" he said. "I think it will be very healthy. There are a number of people in MEC who love horse racing. We want to get completely away from anything adversarial and see if we can find better ways to improve the sport. We all have different ideas, but we have to respect each other's ideas, be civilized and bring a good attitude. We all love this sport and are looking for answers to improve it. Maybe we'll have additional forums at other tracks."
The speech by Gaines to the Kentucky farm managers came two months after Stronach addressed the group. Stronach isn't happy with the direction the Magna-NTRA debate has taken. "All of a sudden it's gotten personal," Stronach said. "John Gaines overstepped the line of fairness. It's sad that he makes those remarks." He also said he "hasn't gotten a fair shake" from the press. "I think things have been slanted against me," Stronach said.
Gaines made comparisons between Stronach and Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who, like Stronach, made his fortune through a fiercely entrepreneurial and independent spirit. Gaines spoke of their great successes, but also touched on their rare failures, an issue that struck a nerve with Stronach. "I've never been bankrupt," he said. "I pay my bills, and I don't owe anyone."
Stronach didn't mind the comparison to Perot. "Ross Perot made a great contribution to America," he said. "I know him personally. Anytime you challenge the system like he did you have the establishment looking down on you. He is a great American. History will look upon him as one of the greatest Americans."