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Halsey Minor Horse owner, founder of CNET

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Halsey Minor is the founder of CNET, which became the first Web-content company to go public, just four years after its founding in 1992. At CNET—which CBS recently purchased for $1.8 billion—Minor started several initiatives that made hundreds of millions of dollars for the company once they were spun off, including the Web portal Snap, the e-commerce site BuyDirect.com, and software firm Vignette.

Minor attended Woodberry Forest School and the University of Virginia, where he received a degree in anthropology. After graduation, he worked at Merrill Lynch, before moving on to start his own company. Minor was also the founding and largest investor as well as silent partner in the development of salesforce.com.

In 2007 Minor purchased the historic Carter's Grove plantation on 400 acres for $15.3 million and that he plans to use the mansion as a private residence and use the site as a center for a thoroughbred horse-breeding program. His racing stable, Four Roses Thoroughbreds owns several race horses, including Fierce Wind (trained by Nick Zito), winner of the 2008 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

More recently, Minor has been in the media for his interest in purchasing Hialeah Park Race Track, which opened in 1925, with the intent of restoring it to its original state and bringing back racing.

East Hanover, New Jersey:
Hello Halsey...Your plans to incarnate the venerable Hialeah Park Race Course is certainly noble and altruistic..however my question to you is what are you contemplating in order to resuscitate this grande dame vis-a-vis what John Brunetti has purportedly been attempting to do since he took stewardship over two decades ago? Warmest regards and thank you always for the window, Steve Stone.

Minor:
I think there are many things I would do differently, not all of which I want to discuss here. The infrastructure of American tracks is in horrible shape. Even in Brunetti's final years of racing Hialeah was getting long of tooth. I want the grounds to be pristine, the service to be flawless and I want to use track architecture and technology to bring the fans closer to the athletes. Unfortunately this is one of those questions I could go on for days answering. Basically our sport principally suffers from product problems and not marketing problems. Too many of the facilities are just not family friendly or even worse they are kind of gross.

Palm Beach, Florida:
Hi Halsey, Nothing would be more wonderful than to have a beautiful racetrack like Hialeah reopened- but the problem now, that wasn't a problem 20 years ago is the surrounding area- handle will be low, because no one will want to be there by driving--- can't you build a track nearer Palm Beach, where safety and all amenities are available?

Minor:
There is a lot of money near Hialeah these days that wasn't there 20 years ago, particularly in the winter. I have studied this extensively. Also being 15 minutes from 2/3 of the world’s male and female models and celebrities on vacation creates an interesting opportunity.

You should know that the area around Hialeah is great. A lot of wonderful Cuban families who are extremely warm and welcoming. I actually love the location and the people.

Last, my hunch is there is room for one track in Miami and another further north as you suggest.

McLeansboro, IL:
During one of the interviews you gave about the possible purchase of Hialeah, I heard you say something to the effect that no entity in the horse racing industry would force you to compromise your intended fan experience. As you know, these types of entities are everywhere (from State legislators who don't understand the business to pari-mutuel clerk unions to ADW outlets). Can you tell us any of your specific thoughts on how best to work with some of these entities? Thank you and best wishes!

Minor:
I don't know how to work with them quite frankly except openly and honestly.

I just know that Disney brings a systemic approach to customer service that involves guidelines and training among many other things. Furthermore they do not allow anything in the park to break the magic spell (trash can). No one has ever applied these principles to racing. Racing is an experience and I can control that experience from the moment you enter the gates until the moment you leave. That is the part that no one can take from me. No one even knows what that looks like except what I have in my head.

Corsicana, Texas:
I have visited over 50 tracks in 4 countries but never made it to Hialeah. Please describe to me the Hialeah experience that I missed so I can understand why you so badly want to re-open this track.

Minor:
I don't know how to work with them quite frankly except openly and honestly.

I have only seen the pictures of Hialeah when it was in its full glory. Nothing can top it. Today there are only the bones. It is depressing to look at yet you can see how it can be rebuilt -- for $90 million dollars.

Floral Park, NY:
Do you really think it would be good for racing to compete head to head with Gulfstream during the winter racing months if you get Hialeah? How could you avoid it?

Minor:
Yes. If I get Hialeah I will return it to its historical dates. The rest of the question is better answered by the executives at Gulfstream.

La Costa, CA:
Wondering with MEC in trouble and has stated that they may have to sell Santa Anita to pay down debt, if you have thought about getting a few "buddies" together to buy Santa Anita?

Minor:
My long term goal is to rebuild the entire racing infrastructure in America. Unfortunately MEC spent money on malls and not new facilities in places like Maryland. We are like a country club that has not spent any money on upkeep. It’s assessment time.

Arnold, MO:
A few months ago, I read an article in, as I recall, the on-line version of Blood Horse. I do not remember who wrote it. The author thought that it would be a terrific idea if Hialeah was restored and became a permanent home for the Breeders' Cup races. What are your thoughts on this possibility?

Minor:
Bill Farish, who chairs the Breeders' Cup, is a good friend of mine and someone I respect very much. I have talked to Bill and I am not sure Hialeah can easily handle the size of the crowds; and there is also an issue with the dates.

Leesburg, VA:
Thanks for taking time to answer questions. It's great to see someone with your energy and imagination willing to invest in the horse industry. Hialeah is a beautiful race track, but since you live in Virginia and Colonial Downs is for sale why wouldn't you buy Colonial Downs.

Minor:
I tried but the offering price is way too high for what you would get. They are holding out for slots. I said good luck. I would like to own a track in Virginia one day but I would put it in a different place and it would be a lot more elegant. Virginia is the birthplace of racing in America and we need a facility that reflects our importance and heritage.

Ashtabula, OH:
What is your view on horse slaughter? Not all Thoroughbreds are champions but they all deserve a good life after racing; are you committed to the horses that you race that they all get a good retirement?

Minor:
This is not a question I am thinking about but all of my horse will have good homes, not matter how fast they run.

La Grange, KY:
Dear Mr. Minor, Have you found it depressing that no one will take you serious in your attempts at Thoroughbred Race Track ownership?

Minor:
I think I have been taken very seriously. The amount of industry support I have received has been nothing short of incredible. I have never built a company in a week and I won't rebuild the foundation of our sport in a week either. The good news is I am passionate, committed and willing to spend decades if need be achieving my goals. My success has always been predicated on my perseverance. You'll still be asking me questions in five years I assure you.

Chicago, IL:
I appreciate your passion in restoring Hialeah to its former glory as I think it is one of the most beautiful tracks in the country. My question is this, is your effort relegated solely to Hialeah, or will you be looking to rejuvenate another racetrack should your attempt to by Hialeah not come to fruition?

Minor:
My goal is to rehabilitate as many tracks as I can in my lifetime. They are all old and out of date and we have not made capital investments in our sport in decades (so called Racino’s, racing killers, don’t count).

Helotes, TX:
How could Hialeah survive during the present Florida deregulation era without the winter dates while Gulfstream and Calder are suffering with declining revenues due to the horrible South Florida economic conditions?

Minor:
Each suffers from a different problem. On the positive side south Florida has a huge population and an enormous winter vacationer population. The obvious answer is neither has built an experience people are interested in. Why do you go to good movies but not bad movies? They are both movies right?

Lexington, KY:
Why do you think a new barn area would be needed ? Why not a state of the art receiving barn?

Minor:
That is part of the plan.

Saratoga Springs, NY:
What was your decision in purchasing Dream Rush last year? What are your future plans with this brilliant filly?

Minor:
My plan is for her to win the Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and then retire in glory and have a little A.P. Indy filly I can race and then breed, as Dream Rush slowly becomes a major matriarch in thoroughbred racing. Clear enough?

Fort Lauderdale, FL & Boston MA:
Halsey I think you are wasting your time with Brunetti, I think you should look @ Calder I really think you have more options with this track. I am an owner and wish someone like you would buy one of the major tracks in Fla, we need that to survive. quality of racing in Fla is @ its lowest level as long as I can remember, all the best to you in your new adventure.

Minor:
I am quality over quantity. I don’t want to build tracks so much as I want to build experiences. When I am done with building/rebuilding something I want people to be as excited to come visit as they would be checking out a new Iphone! Lines around the block. Thoroughbred racing means something very special to me and each park I undertake must reflect that feeling.

Virginia Beach, VA:
I am a dentist in the Virginia Beach area and a Thoroughbred breeder/owner. Our sport certainly needs more individuals like you, and I appreciate your efforts. Will there be opportunities to visit/tour Carter's Grove Plantation now or in the future?

Minor:
Carter’s Grove is now a private residence and is not permitted to be open to the public by deed. That being said when we are done we will participate in Garden Week.

Middleburg, VA:
Greetings to a fellow Virginian. I have read about your purchase of historic farm down in southern Virginia. As a breeder do you see many opportunities producing Virginia breds at this time? Do you ever plan to stand top class stallions there on your farm?

Minor:
When I get a top stallion (hope/pray) he will stand for two years in Kentucky while I build out the infrastructure and then he is coming back to the home of Thoroughbred racing, Virginia on the James, in my case Carter’s Grove.

Davie, FL:
As noble as your idea sounds how do you think you can have a purse structure that will supply with the top horses to secure a truly great race meet...good luck I truly wish you the best.

Minor:
I don’t know but let’s find out!

Canterbury, CT:
Hi Mr. Minor. Do you follow racing as a fan? If so, who, in your opinion is the best horse in racing right now? It seems the obvious choice right now is first Curlin, then Zenyatta, followed by Big Brown.

Minor:
Big Brown beat my colt Fierce Wind in the Florida Derby (Fierce Wind was injured and is just now coming back). When I saw Big Brown I said this horse is going to win the Triple Crown. He was so impressive looking. My friend George Bolton was an original owner of Curlin and he is of course an amazing horse. The one I truly, truly love is Zenyatta. I am a sucker for fillies and I just love to watch her run. I would love driving by and seeing her on the farm every day.

San Francisco, CA:
Halsey, The inherent risk that backstretch workers compensation presents in Florida is and will continue to be a major problem for the economic viability of horse racing in Florida. I have put together successful plans to mitigate this risk in California, Delaware, etc. I would like to grab your ear on this important subject. How can I get in touch with you?

Minor:
I don’t really see this forum for that kind of discussion. I will say this, a rising tide lifts all ships. Thoroughbred racing is like a poor nation where everybody needs to fight for a sliver of the pie. All I care about is making the pie bigger since no one else clearly has for decades.

Woodbury, MN:
I applaud your goals and hope for your success. I am concerned about the racinos in the U.S. and their use of slots to marginalize the racing product rather than upgrade and promote it. How would you address this issue and attempt to get these racinos on board with using slots as a means to an end rather than an end in and of themselves?

Minor:
First of all I hate Racinos with a passion. They create purses and destroy fans. That is not sustainable in the long term. If slots are to be allowed, the "casinos" should be run away from the race tracks and the money delivered to the purses WITHOUT the machines being close to the horses.

What everyone forgets is slot machines don't create money. When you put a dollar in and pull the handle two dollars don't appear in the economy. All that profit from slot machines goes to casino operators who are usually out of state, the state itself and sometimes horseman. It does not go to buy clothes, food, pari-mutuel wagering, car repairs or family vacations. Slots suck money out of a state and drain the economy. They do not inject money into a state. It would be a neat trick if someone could create a slot machine that created economic growth and additional spending money but so far we have only invented the opposite.

Memphis, TN:
Halsey, you should look into buying Oaklawn Park. It is a hidden gem and has unbelievable fan support. I love the way you are looking to reinvest in the infrastructure of the game.

Minor:
Nothing is off the table. I am 43 and patient. I don't smoke, drink and I take my vitamins every night (a little short on exercise, however). I hope to have a long and prosperous career addressing America's 40-year lack of investment in racing.

Ft. Lauderdale, FL:
I know you're looking to buy broodmares. Have you considered buying Better Than Honour, Madcap Escapade or Honey Ryder next month? They are all superb mares. I sure would like to see them go to a nice owner like you.

Minor:
I can't afford them. It turns out even old race tracks that haven't been used in nearly a decade are extremely expensive. But if someone wanted to give me one of these great broodmares as a good will gesture I would gladly accept Better than Honour!

Cleveland, OH:
If successful in purchasing Hialeah, How long could it be before you would have the track operational?

Minor:
They say three years; I say two.

Arlington, VA:
First, as a lifelong fan of horseracing I appreciate the personal and financial risks you are taking to save a sport that truly needs saving. Have you considered allowing him to retain minority ownership or even structuring a long-term lease of the property? That way he can still feel connected to the property but you would have freedom to rebuild and operate and you see fit - a win/win scenario might still be possible.

Minor:
John bought the track outright to give it a fresh start in 1977. I offered John a role as an advisor but there are many feuds that have nothing to do with me and certainly predate me, but with John as an equity owner all those feuds would be brought forward. I believe a fresh start is the only is to get a license from the state and deal with some other sensitivities which almost a decade later still fester and would hinder my success.

Haverford, PA:
Do you think your purchase of Carter's Grove (and coordination required with Colonial Williamsburg for working on the property) has given you a leg up on dealing with the powers that be at Hialeah? How would you contrast the experiences?

Minor:
Working with Colonial Williamsburg is a true pleasure. Obviously the same can not be said -- at least to date - for Brunetti. My purchase of Carters Grove let people know that I care about deeply about history and preserving the important pieces of our past.

Syracuse, NY:
What will Dream Rush's next race be?

Minor:
Hopefully, the Breeders Cup. She is on the bubble in terms of points but she was the favorite last year and I just know she will win if she gets a shot this year. I absolutely love that mare and I want her to go out with the recognition she deserves.

San Mateo, CA:
San Mateo needs Halsey to purchase Bay Meadows and bring it back to it's heyday now that times are tough and development may be in question -- what are the odds? Perhaps he could help bring back major racing here?

Minor:
San Mateo is gone. Lets focus on saving those tracks that we can still save.

My question concerns your breeding program. Are you employing any new strategies given the profound economic downturn and increased difficulty of selling at a profit at auction?
San Mateo needs Halsey to purchase Bay Meadows and bring it back to it's heyday now that times are tough and development may be in question -- what are the odds? Perhaps he could help bring back major racing here?

Minor:
I am by and large not a commercial breeder. I don't breed for the auction ring. I breed to race although from time to time I may sell to pay some bills. Right now I worry more about declining handle and less about declining prices at the big auctions. In fact that may create opportunities for picking up great mares for less money.

LAST UPDATED: 4:45 P.M. (ET)

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