Frank Stronach rented a hotel conference room Tuesday night to lay out a proposal to turn over Santa Anita and the other Stronach Group race tracks to the people in the game--owners, trainers, etc. But as someone who no longer has a voice in how the company he founded is run, it's all talk. Maybe this isn't such a bad thing. With horsemen calling the shots, there would be no hope of meaningful medication reforms and a higher likelihood of an increase in takeout than a reduction.

Frank Stronach is great copy. A man of grandiose visions he has a knack for making news. He talks the biggest game in racing. Sometimes he delivers.

He said he would tear down and rebuild Gulfstream Park around a shopping mall and he did. Whether he should have is a debate for a different day.

A hotel in the south parking lot didn’t get as far as a ground breaking but this didn’t deter Frank from promoting it in the daily racing program almost up to when it was supposed to have its grand opening.

Many in racing scoffed at Frank’s idea for the Pegasus World Cup. But with some revisions, it is now a compelling element of the racing calendar.

On the other hand, the less said the better about the garish statue of Pegasus in the north parking lot.

All of this is preamble to examination of Frank’s grandiose proposal at a California hotel Tuesday night that The Stronach Group’s racing properties be turned over to the stakeholders in racing: owners, trainers, etc.

The proposal is in keeping with Frank’s passion for racing. His goal, he said, is to guarantee that TSG properties remain race tracks, although only he says they are in danger of becoming anything else.

One big problem. Frank has the title of honorary chairman of The Stronach Group but he currently has no say in the operation of Santa Anita, Gulfstream, Laurel/Pimlico and Golden Gate. His daughter Belinda runs the show pending the outcome of a family feud lawsuit.

Frank says he is hopeful of prevailing but the way the courts and lawyers, who get paid by the hour, work, the 86-year-old might have to crack triple digits to see the suit to its resolution.

This could be the case even if he wins in court. Transfers of racing licenses with the obligatory investigations, which would be necessary in Florida, Maryland and California, could be a long process. Even the leasing option Frank suggested would entail lengthy scrutiny.

Let’s say all of this is cleared. Would it really be in racing’s interest to have owners and trainers running the show? Forget any meaningful changes in medication rules. The majority of horsemen nationwide have made it clear they are all in on the retention of race day Lasix.

The Stronach tracks are such powerful forces in racing that it would be pointless to attempt to change medication rules without their support.

As usual, the one crucial component of racing, the fans, have been left out of Frank’s plan. With organizations like the Thoroughbred Owners of California calling the shots, the hope for any meaningful reduction in takeout is a fantasy. The opposite development is more likely.

Frank put on a great show Tuesday night but it’s a show that is unlikely to have a final act.

NY fans deserve better

Speaking of fans getting screwed, it has been quite a while since I visited Belmont Park. It’s a long drive from Florida. But I was taken aback when I noticed in a press release setting up Belmont’s spring-summer meeting that general admission will be $5.

This is as objectionable in principle as raises in takeout. NYRA is swimming in casino money. The proper general admission should be zero, as it is at Gulfstream and other tracks with racinos. Technically there is no racino at Belmont but NYRA is NYRA. The casino dollars from Aqueduct keep flowing when racing is at Belmont.

I’ll even cut some slack and support admission fees for Friday and Saturday of Belmont Stakes Week and Belmont Invitational/Oaks Day.

In an ideal world, this would also apply to Saratoga, but I am trying to keep this is in the real world.

I acknowledge that a lot of the casino dole is dedicated by law to purses. This has elevated them to absurd levels.

Laws can be amended. NYRA should approach the horsemen and ask them to participate in a golden public relations ploy by allowing a small portion of the casino money be allotted to eliminating admission charges. There could be a daily announcement, “Today’s admission free racing is brought to you by New York horsemen as a sign of appreciation for your support.”
Gestures matter, especially to a group that is used to being ignored when they are not being exploited.

It wouldn’t have to be painful for horsemen. Allowing for a very generous average daily general admission attendance of 5,000 over the 45 non-special days, it would cost less than $1.2 to eradicate a tariff at the gate.

There are four stakes with bloated purses of $700,000 apiece—the Man O War, the Acorn, the Just a Game and Suburban—which would draw exactly the same fields for $500,000 each. There’s $800,000. The $1.2 million for the Met Mile is also wildly inflated. Is there anyone who would argue that a mere $1 million purse would cost the race even one horse? This is such a coveted title it would draw the best of the best for even less. This puts the savings at $1 million.

Drop the Peter Pan from $300,000 to $250,000—it’s basically a prep for the Belmont—and the $400,000 of the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup to $250,000—still a windfall for the plodders it attracts—and you have all you need to banish general admission.

Only six races would be impacted and they are of the caliber won by the richest of owners. The horsemen scraping out a living day by day wouldn’t be hurt one bit.

The goodwill toward fans, who have been overlooked as NYRA bathes in casino money, would be priceless.