Japanese take over Calder, Gulfstream Firestone, freed from debt, will concentrate on breeding

December 29, 1991|By Jim McNair | Jim McNair,Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI -- Two financial powerhouses from Japan took possession of Calder and Gulfstream racetracks Friday in a deal that freed Virginia horse breeder Bertram Firestone of $168 million in debt he couldn't repay.

Operations of the tracks, two of the biggest in the country, will not change immediately, said representatives for the new owners and state officials. Gulfstream will reopen on Jan. 8, as scheduled.

The deals were completed in New York at 5 p.m. Friday. In public statements shortly thereafter, nothing was mentioned of Firestone's well-publicized financial problems.

In a prepared statement from their farm in Upperville, Va., Bert and Diana Firestone said they gave up the tracks to devote themselves to breeding and racing horses.

"While I have enjoyed the racetracks, one cannot fall in love with any business," the statement said. "The offers we received made it more attractive for us to sell than to remain in these businesses."

The sale to two leading Japanese lenders brought a subdued reaction from racetrack executives in South Florida, including Hialeah Park owner John Brunetti, who had tangled with Firestone over racing dates ever since Firestone came on the scene nearly four years ago.

"It's unfortunate for the industry, and regardless of our differences I'd hate to see any extreme hardship exerted on the Firestones," Brunetti said. "This is not a high-five, thumbs-up, slam-dunk time. We've got a long way to go. We've got to go ahead and expand the industry."

Said Douglas Donn, who will be retained as president at Gulfstream: "I'm very fond of Bert and Diana Firestone. I'm not familiar with the circumstances involved and I'm not going to speculate on it."

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