Magna Eyeing Four U.S. Tracks, Another in Ontario

Magna Entertainment intends to buy four more racetracks in the United States and is considering breaking into the Ontario racing market, a Toronto newspaper has reported.

Frank Stronach, Magna's chairman and founder, shared these plans during the first meeting of shareholders May 11. He said he hopes within two years to control 35% of the United States handle for Thoroughbred racing.

"I want to stress very strongly, I didn't buy racetracks because I love horse racing," Stronach told shareholders, according to the National Post. "I bought racetracks because I thought they were not run well. And I thought we could improve things quite drastically and thereby have a great business opportunity."

Magna now owns seven Thoroughbred racetracks -- including Santa Anita Park and Gulfstream Park, and The Meadows harness track in Pennsylvania. The company's tracks handle about 26% of the nation's wagers on Thoroughbred racing.

In the past year, Stronach has been seen visiting several racetracks but specific action has not been taken. He has agreed to lease Portland Meadows in Oregon for up to three years and has reportedly made an offer to lease Suffolk Downs near Boston.

Besides the U.S. acquisitions, Magna has its eye on its home turf of Ontario. The National Post reported that Flamboro Downs harness track near Hamilton, south of Toronto, might be the company's best hope for breaking into a market dominated by the Ontario Jockey Club, which owns Woodbine Race Course and Mohawk harness track. Stronach was an OJC director until 1997 when he was voted off for criticizing the racing company in a newspaper article.

Magna has not contacted Flamboro Downs' owner Charles Juravinski, but he said the racetrack is definitely for sale.

"I wouldn't be opposed to anybody taking Flamboro Downs at this point in my life," Juravinski, who is 72, told the National Post. "I've had my fun. The baby is grown up. It is well and it is a winning baby. It's just time to move on."

The OJC submitted a letter of intent to buy Flamboro Downs and its slot machine operation last year, but walked away from the deal. Juravinski said he is glad the deal fell through because he thinks the track is worth more than the OJC offered. He said he accepted the OJC offer "in a weak moment."

"I think anybody who wants to be in the entertainment and gaming business is missing the boat by not coming to Flamboro Downs," Juravinski said.