Stronach plans IPOs for six racehorse-ownership firms

Companies selling stock in thoroughbreds at $10 apiece

January 27, 2012|By Hanah Cho, The Baltimore Sun

Frank Stronach, Pimlico's owner and a successful breeder, wants to bring horse ownership to the masses — by selling stock in six new racehorse investment companies.

For $10 a share, investors could own a piece of thoroughbreds that would be trained and raced around the country before they are sold off, according to documents filed for the initial public stock offerings. The companies — named after Stronach's winning horses, including 2000 Preakness champ Red Bullet — are trying to raise a total of about $24 million.

The IPOs are an unusual twist on private racing partnerships, in which small groups of investors might put up tens of thousands of dollars or more for upfront costs and continuing expenses. Last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, is owned by such a partnership. However, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association was unaware of any similar public venture involving large-scale racehorse ownership.

Industry experts — and the prospectuses themselves — caution that sinking money into racehorses is risky.

Dogwood Farms president Cot Campbell, who is credited as the founder of racing partnerships, said: "It's like drilling for oil. If you drill 20 wells, 18 may be dry holes."

The prospectuses for the public offerings — a short-term investment lasting all of two years — make it clear that "the most frequent financial outcome from ownership of a thoroughbred racehorse or an equity interest in a thoroughbred racehorse is the partial or total loss of invested capital."

Timonium-based financial adviser David Berman said it would be a stretch to call the public offering an investment. He characterized the Stronach proposal as something between the Green Bay Packers' recent stock offering, in which the shares have little value because they carry many restrictions, and a venture capital investment.

Stock in Stronach's companies would not be traded on any exchange.

"Even if you assume the idea works in this case, assuming that one of the 20 horses is a winner, you are still a long way from getting a return on your money," Berman said.

Still, supporters say the IPOs could attract more people to a struggling industry that has seen a decline in wagering as fans flock to other forms of gambling such as slot machines and online betting.

"It's a creative idea that could be good for the sport," said Terry Finley, president of West Point Thoroughbreds in Mount Laurel, N.J., which manages racing partnerships. "More people will be researching horse-racing ownership online and learning about thoroughbred racing."

Stronach has had a mixed record in the racing industry.

His breeding operation, Adena Springs in Kentucky, was the leading North American breeder in 2011 for the ninth consecutive year, with its horses earning more than $14.6 million, according to Blood-Horse, an industry trade publication. Stronach has won numerous awards, including the industry's top honor, the Eclipse Award, most recently this year. His horses have won many major races, including several Breeders' Cups.

But his Magna Entertainment Corp., a publicly traded company that owned and operated racetracks in the United States, including Laurel Park and Pimlico, filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

Through several complicated maneuvers, Stronach now owns other tracks as well, including Gulfstream Park in Florida and Santa Anita Park in Southern California, under the privately held Stronach Group.

In Maryland, Stronach has angered horsemen, breeders and other industry stakeholders with his unsuccessful attempts to significantly cut the number of live racing days during the past two years.

Others blame the auto parts magnate for Laurel Park's losing out on a slots license because Magna failed to pay the license fee. And collectively, Laurel and Pimlico, the home of the Preakness Stakes, have been losing money for years.

Except for the names of the corporations involved in Stronach's IPOs, the details of each operation are virtually identical.

The prospectuses also identify conflicts of interests associated with the business.

Stronach, who is listed as chairman for each company, controls or owns the entities involved in the operations — from the company that bought the horses to the management group that will oversee their training to the breeding farm that would be hired to provide day-to-day care. The same officers and directors, some of whom have jobs with Stronach's other companies or other breeding operations, would manage all six companies.

Each corporation has acquired 20 thoroughbred horses from Alpen House, which bought the animals as yearlings at auction. Alpen House is controlled by Stronach.

Besides Alpen House, other entities involved in the business have ties to Stronach, according to the prospectuses.

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