WHY FRANK STRONACH IS GOOD FOR RACING
October 14th, 2011 · No Comments
The Austrian-born Canadian entrepreneur Frank Stronach is a real-life Horatio Alger success story. Coincidentally, Alger’s first book was titled Frank’s Campaign.
Stronach is well-known in worldwide business circles and the mere mention of his name can provoke controversy. Depending on who is doing the evaluating, opinions about Stronach’s contributions to Thoroughbred racing can be as different as night and day. One might wonder: “Are you sure we’re talking about the same person?”
Most notable on the plus side, Stronach has built a hugely successful breeding and racing empire. His Adena Springs has won the Eclipse Award as champion breeder in the United States seven times since 2000. Additionally, Stronach was the leading owner in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2008 and his homebreds have won classics and sired classic winners.
Negative opinions about Stronach’s efforts arise mostly from his participation on the retail side of the industry. For example, his failed Magna Entertainment Corporation was roundly criticized for missing out on the down-payment money for racetrack slots at Laurel Park. Gulfstream Park in Florida is another focal point, owing to its controversial architectural design and placement within a shopping area and casino.
None of this is surprising. Any major entrepreneur or company leader is going to be a lightning rod for criticism and second-guessing. That comes with being a mover and shaker. Donald Trump, for instance, is a highly successful real estate developer and TV show host, who also destroyed a lot of shareholder wealth with his ventures in Atlantic City casinos and a defunct airline shuttle service. The late Steve Jobs was once fired from Apple.
It is certainly fair game and to be expected for customers to weigh in on Stronach’s racetracks or for investors to lament his stewardship of the former Magna Entertainment Corporation. However, the cut-to-the-chase question is: Would the North American horse racing industry be better off or worse off without Stronach’s involvement? If you could turn back the clock and change history so that Stronach never became involved, would you do so in the best interests of racing?
People who run businesses are inevitably going to make mistakes and their actions will not be universally applauded. But these should be considered within the context of the bigger picture. Racing needs much more investment from extremely wealthy individuals, who are passionate about the sport, rather than less. Auction sales need more buyers, racetracks and partnerships need investors, and geographical areas like greater Lexington and Ocala need organizations such as Adena Springs that employ hundreds of people and pump money into the local economies.
Most of all, because the pari-mutuel product is in deep trouble relying on the traditional business model, significant departures from past practices—personified, for example, by Gulfstream Park–are essential. As Albert Einstein remarked, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Entrepreneurs are the straws that stir the drinks, the people who are willing to put their money behind new approaches. Old-line industries like racing inescapably stagnate without innovation and experimentation. Someone needs to do the disruption and not many in racing have stepped up. Frank Stronach is an important exception to the rule. Leaders like him are going to provoke plenty of negative emotion but are invaluable. (The key indicator of Stronach’s “outsider” status: he is among the most instrumental figures in American racing and the most prominent Canadian in the sport since the late E. P. Taylor, yet he is not a member of the U. S. Jockey Club.)
President Theodore Roosevelt talked in one of his most famous speechess, in 1910, about “the man in the arena”: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Horse racing needs more disruptive-innovative entrepreneurs in a shrinking arena. Mike Repole might be a younger version of Frank Stonach in the making.