Few people in the thoroughbred world have had the type of impact on the sport – both on and off the racetrack – that Frank Stronach has.
Honoured with an Eclipse Award of Merit at his Gulfstream Park in 2019, Stronach, born in 1932 in Austria, has earned a rightful reputation as one of horse racing’s most influential citizens.
His trophy case is chock full of impressive awards, an enviable amount of hardware that includes eight Eclipse Awards as Outstanding Breeder and four as Outstanding Owner.
It doesn’t end there for the 87-year-old who owns and operates Santa Anita Park, Gulfstream Park, Golden Gate Fields, Pimlico, Laurel Park and Portland Meadows.
Stronach also has 12 Sovereign Awards as Outstanding Breeder, eight as Outstanding Owner, and a special Sovereign Award with Awesome Again, winner of the 1997 Queen’s Plate and 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Inducted into Canada’s Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2002, several of Stronach’s silk bearers have won the sport’s highest profile events, including 1980 Canadian Horse of the Year Glorious Song (the first Canadian horse to reach the $1 million mark in earnings) and four Plate winners: Basqueian, Awesome Again, Shaman Ghost and Holy Helena.
The Stronach racing operation has owned numerous Breeders’ Cup winners and 2000 Preakness champ, Red Bullet. Horse of the Year Ghostzapper and champion older mare Ginger Punch are other stars that have represented Stronach. Awesome Feather, Macho Uno, Citronnade, Sugar Shake and Spun Sugar have all earned Grade 1 crowns.
Stronach’s Adena Springs North in Aurora, ON has played a critical role in the Canadian breeding industry and is still a major player today.
What are the most critical challenges facing the industry in Canada today?
“I see two key issues: 1. The industry must prove to the public that horse owners care for the horses — while they race and even after. We know that 99 per cent of the people do care deeply and love their horses, but we have to do more to show this to the public. It’s important that horses don’t end up in the slaughter houses. If a horse isn’t suitable for racing we must do the right thing and retire the horse. The industry should invest in pension facilities for retired horses. I propose that one per cent of the handle should be set aside to fund pensions for our horses. Good horses that can’t race anymore will find new homes and different careers, but we need to be responsible for the rest of the horses.
“2. Racetrack management doesn’t have a close feeling for horses, there are too many people that have a say in the sport who don’t have an affinity for horses. Many of them would not be seriously impacted if horse racing were eliminated. We need more people whose lives are significantly affected by the decisions they make. I propose that the stakeholders – the breeders, owners, and trainers who have a lot invested in the industry — be the ones to run racing. They would be the trustees and they would create a racing charter of rights. Breeders would get a vote for each broodmare they own. Owners would receive one vote for each horse they raced. Trainers of registered racehorses would vote for each horse they train. This ensures that the interests of the horsepeople are accurately reflected in any changes or new policies.”
What needs to change about the industry in the next 5-10 years?
“The control of the industry needs to be returned to the stakeholders. The stakeholders should lease the facilities from the racetrack and pay a form of rent, I suggest two per cent of the value of the investment. They would also pay an additional one per cent of the handle. This is a common arrangement for retail stores that have to pay rent plus a percentage of sales. This arrangement would be affordable for the horsepeople while giving control of the business to the people with the most at stake.
In the U.S. there are about five million part-time people employed in the horse industry and about one million full-time employees. That’s more than a business, it’s a culture. I would like to preserve that culture of horses. They have played a huge role in the culture of mankind and are the last thing that connects us to that history and nature. I would like to see that culture be improved on. People that have a lot at stake would be more careful and would have a better of understanding of how to improve the business and take better care of the horses.”
How can you help affect that change?
“I can help bring forward ideas — the horse community needs new ideas. I’ve invested the most in horse racing of anybody on this continent. I love horses and they are a huge part of my life, but I see the industry going backwards. My role is in helping to identify where can we improve and helping to make those changes.”
Where do you see the thoroughbred industry in Canada in 10 years?
“If we don’t dramatically reform the industry so that the right stakeholders are managing it, the industry will continue to decline. The stakeholders need to take a close look and mobilize to create an action plan. With over 100,000 jobs across the country at stake, the government should also be interested.
“The Horse Racing Integrity Act (HRIA) in the U.S. is a good example of how such stakeholders can make a difference. The HRIA will control medications and ensure that the right machinery is available at the tracks to detect illegal substances. No business can function if the public thinks there is cheating. The industry must not condone it and the rules need to be improved to prevent it. We have to prove to the public that it’s a clean sport – cleaner than anything else.”