Magna chairman Frank Stronach.

Magna chairman Frank Stronach.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Stronach Defends Position on NTRA, Offers Views on Industry

As chairman of Magna Entertainment, the publicly traded company that was spun off from auto parts giant Magna International to build a portfolio of racetracks, Frank Stronach has become one of the most influential people in the Thoroughbred industry. In addition to the seven racetracks he controls, Stronach owns breeding farms in Florida, Kentucky, and Ontario, Canada, has one of the largest breeding operations in North America, and races an Eclipse Award-winning stable, which won two Breeders' Cup races with homebreds.

Stronach recently said Magna's racetracks -- Bay Meadows, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park, Great Lakes Downs, Remington Park, Santa Anita Park and Thistledown -- would withdraw their membership from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association at the end of the year, joining 15 other tracks, including a coalition from the Mid-Atlantic region. Stronach took exception to a subsequent editorial in the Nov. 4 edition of The Blood-Horse suggesting he had "turned his back" on fellow owners and breeders through his decision, and he requested an opportunity to explain his position. He was interviewed by editor-in-chief Ray Paulick during the Keeneland sales on Nov. 8.

The Blood-Horse: You were unhappy with an editorial that said you turned your back on owners and breeders by joining with a coalition of Mid-Atlantic racetracks pulling out of the NTRA. Why?
Frank Stronach: I could remark on a few things here. There was a comment about an 'unholy alliance.' Who determines what the alliance is? There was no alliance. But let's ignore that for a minute. I think the media has hyped this more and inflated this more than what it is. The plain fact is a national organization would be good for the industry. I have three concerns, the same as I had a year ago. I stayed in then as a sign of good will and said I hope within a year those concerns will be addressed. I have never heard yet a clear message that the NTRA does want a board elected by democratic principles.

As a result of your concerns, didn't the NTRA change the way its board is chosen, by allowing the representative organizations -- horsemen's groups and racetracks -- to elect a member to the board?
It's not elected. It's still to a great extent appointed. Naturally, when we talk of a board being elected by its shareholders, its stakeholders, you've got to define it. We've got breeders, owners, trainers, racetracks. Men of goodwill will come up with rules and principles where we do have an election, not an appointment.

Currently there are five racetrack seats on the board and five representing horsemen. Those individual groups are electing their NTRA representative. What's wrong with that?
They are appointing them. There must be a secret ballot, an election. If it's not done by a secret ballot, it's appointed, OK? Democratic means you have a secret vote. I'm saying the board must be elected by democratic principles. A good board will decide the mandate, and the management will execute the business plan. The whole thing is loose at this point. The first step is, the board must be elected by democratic principles. I fully appreciate to get things off the ground you have to set things up a certain way. But it's mature enough now, there's a basic framework.

Who is not represented now? What constituency does not have a seat on the board?
I think most are represented, but the board members have been appointed. A few guys got together and said, 'OK, you go on the board.' The wide constituency has no say in this.

So you are saying to have a general election, with every spot up for grabs -- no balance between tracks and horsemen?
That's exactly what we've got to talk about. How should that structure be? You've got the tracks, the owners, the breeders. Everybody has a different idea, but that has to be sorted out. In the final analysis you need a democratic framework to do that.

I know that a publicly held company may be different, but the Magna board is not a democracy, is it? It's my understanding you are in complete control the company.
You don't have to buy any shares if you don't want to. If you don't like something, it's not necessary to buy it. You can't compare that.

But the fact is your company not a democracy.
The democracy is that if you don't like something, sell your shares, right? But let me put it another way. There may be 100 or 150 companies that produce automobile parts. We have an automobile parts association, where we have common grounds that serve the industry. The food and beverage industry has an association where they look at things and say how do we best serve the industry?

You've said you support a national office. What do you like or not like about what the NTRA is doing?
They should not compete with its stakeholders. How much did they pay for Winner Communications? If I were on the board I would say, 'What did you do that for? You have no business doing that.' The board should decide the business plan and the management should execute. It is all loose. We have to define exactly what this organization wants to achieve. I think it's healthy to have different views. We must respect those views.

You hadn't bought your first racetrack when the NTRA started, but there was broad participation in the development of a business plan.
The industry has changed drastically. The basic idea in its initial stages was, 'Can we together create a marketing plan that would help the industry?' Then, Churchill expanded, I came in and bought a whole bunch of tracks and will be buying some more. I'll create my own marketing plan. I know most of the NTRA directors. They're nice people; they're good people. But that doesn't mean that the system is right. The message I want to get across is the board has to be elected so we don't have appointments. Then, we've got to decide what do we want to achieve. This organization should be heavily represented in Washington so that the industry gets fair treatment, like any other business.

Continued. . . .