Stronach Proceeding with Plans for Ocala Track

By Ryan Conley

Frank Stronach is proceeding with plans to build a racetrack complex near Ocala, Fla., despite facing several governmental and legislative hurdles.

The chairman of Magna Entertainment, which owns nine racetracks nationwide, Stronach recently confirmed his intentions to build a racetrack in northwest Marion County on more than 400 acres of property he has under contract near Interstate 75.

"I am firmly entrenched here," said Stronach, whose 4,900-acre Adena Springs South farm holdings are regarded as the largest of any Thoroughbred breeding and training operation in the Ocala area. "Florida could be the horse capital of the world and I think it is absolutely crucial to have a racetrack built here."

Stronach envisions a complex that would initially feature dirt and turf tracks, a multi-purpose simulcast theater/convention center, grandstands, stalls, employee dormitories and family picnic area--similar in scope to renovations planned at such prominent MEC-owned tracks as Santa Anita Park and Gulfstream Park. Stronach pegs the cost of this first phase of building, which he hopes to begin this year, at between $60-$70 million.

Under his plan, Stronach would like to see two or three short night meets of 30-40 days each operated at the Ocala facility annually.

Besides local land-use and zoning changes with which to contend, Stronach also faces the issue of permitting. Without a revision in Florida legislation, Stronach would be unable to obtain a Thoroughbred permit, as Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Fla. is territorially protected by state statute.

Also, nearby Ocala Breeders' Sales Company, which operates an off-track betting site and owns an inactive Quarterhorse permit, also owns Ocala Jai Alai fronton in Marion County, another territorially protected entity. Additional territorial opposition could come from dog tracks in Daytona Beach and Seminole County, near Orlando.