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 Stronach in the making.

Copyright © 2011 Horse Racing Business


  1. Frank does not care about public opinion as much as results. You are correct about his contributions.

  2. NotaCDIfan says

    This is just an absurd argument, or rather an argument that could be made about anything. That Roosevelt quote could have applied to Adolph Hitler as well.
    Bottom line, horse racing would be much better off without Stronach and with him lingering, it will only get worse until his type goes away.
    After failing miserably with his vision of what horse racing should be, he is now joining in on the crusade to try to take a bigger chunk of a shrinking pie, and all that will happen is the pie will shrink further.
    It is hard to be successful at everything. Stronach proved his forte is not the trackside part of horse racing. If he loved the game and cared about the future, he would get as far away from owning racetracks as humanly possible.
    Nope, it is all about ego.
    As for using his own money. That is pretty funny.

  3. The handle of NotaCDIFan says it all. He/she does not like racetrack owners. The comment proves the point made in the article about critics on the sideline.

  4. NotaCDIfan says

    Wrong MNV, I don’t like racetrack owners who are ruining the game. I like owners like Jeff Gural and Ron Geary. They are entrepreneurs too. But they understand the gambling aspect of the game is number one, and that the game is dependent on horseplayers to grow.
    CDI and Stronach are cancerous to the game.
    How has racing done the last 10 years being dominated by Stronach and CDI?

  5. Bluegrassman says

    FS has had his share of bumps in the road, but it is about time someone pointed out how much he has done for racing.

  6. Geary’s track is about bankrupt and wait a while before you are so sold on Gural.

  7. Yes, great leaders are always controversial, but I fail to see you make note of one positive thing that Stronach has done on the “retail” side. He totally botched the incredible architecture at Santa Anita. No, Gulfstream didn’t need a 20,000-seat grandstand, but 900??? At a track where people flocked for the comfort and ambience. Flushed the Laurel casino down the toilet because he was too cheap to put up $25 million of his own funds when ME was brankrupt. Spent a fortune on a white elephant Palm Meadows in hopes of moving racing there. Killed one of the most popular and well-run racing programs in the country — Oak Tree Racing Association. Continues to hold the second leg of the Triple Crown at track that can, at best, be called a dump. Did nothing for many other racetracks that he bought and eventually sold at fire sales. Stronach is old and there isn’t a heir who cares about racing. Santa Anita will be condos no long after he dies and Gulfstream will be more than happy to give its racing dates to Hialeah or Calder. And the Preakness at Philadelphia Park??? Please, please tell me one — just one — positive thing that Stronach has done for the “retail” side of the business. One hundred years ago, Gov. Charles Evans Hughes did all he could to destroy racing in New York and America. Some say that in the long run he really helped to bring back a stronger sport. A century later, Frank Stronch has done all he can to destroy racing all over this country. I sincerely hope that there is an historial positive that will come out of this one.

  8. Bill Shanklin says

    The positive thing that Frank Stronach has done for the retail side of the business is to invest capital in the declining business of horse racing in an era in which there was/is a dearth of new capital inflows. He obtained slots for Gulfstream Park to subsidize purses and boost South Florida racing. He has conducted at least two Breeders’ Cups at Santa Anita Park. He was the recipient of the inaugural Earle I. Mack Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation Champion Award for “his dedication to improving the welfare and safety of Thoroughbred horses during and after their racing careers.”

  9. fred ankney says

    The man has did many things for the game side of racing and has did more to destroy the bussiness side of racing.Perhaps if he is as great as people think he should stick to what he is good at ,the racing side of the industry

  10. Brian Russell says

    I live in Hallandale Beach, FL and attend Gulfstream almost every day they are open. Although I have mixed feelings about the rebuilding, all in all I think it is a positive. First, there are WAY more young people attending now, in particular young women. Second, I have spoken to scores of people on this issue and find that the people complaining the loudest about the seating and ambiance are long time fans, not real gamblers. A 30 year fan that is still a $2 bettor is not who this business should cater to above all others. That might sound harsh but it is a fact.

  11. What Frank Stronack is to the
    racing economy President Obama is to
    the American economy.

  12. i appreciate Stronach as having contributed a lot to racing. he has failed to innovate, failed to adjust, failed to help bring racing into the internet era, as has this blog, btw. again the Q–what year will it be that we see the first horse racing add on an internet website such as ESPN?

  13. AnotherView says

    August 7, 2011:

    Adena Springs Farm owner Frank Stronach has been selected to receive the inaugural Earle I. Mack Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation Champion Award for “his dedication to improving the welfare and safety of Thoroughbred horses during and after their racing careers.”

    “Frank Stronach has been a proactive leader in his long-standing efforts to provide humane and safe retirements for our sport’s retirees,” Mack said. “His time, influence, and philanthropic endeavors have deservingly made him an outstanding individual in our industry. He is leading the way toward a solution of this and other important issues we face today.

    “Our industry needs more pacesetters like Frank Stronach to step forward. I am proud that he will be the first recipient of the Earle I. Mack Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation Champion Award, and cannot think of a more deserving honoree.”

  14. Clockerbob said it best. Stronach is the Obama of horse racing.

    This egomanic should stick to playing with his own horses. And to whomever asked the question, “Would racing be better off without him?” The answer is a resounding YES!