Halsey Minor: Horse Racing Impresario? Not So Fast

CNET founder turned VC Halsey Minor is desperate to revive the sport of horse racing, but the sport’s declining fan base is just one of numerous obstacles in his way.

Minor first went public with his campaign to restore some glamour to the industry back in July, announcing his ambition to buy Florida’s historic — but now hurricane-ravaged — Hialeah Park racetrack, closed since 2001.

At the time, Minor hadn’t stepped foot in the park, which reportedly will require between $25 and $30 million to restore (money that wouldn’t include its purchase price, another estimated $40 million). Minor — who had studied pictures of Hialeah on the Internet — told the Palm Beach Post it didn’t matter. “What I really care about is what it looked like in its heyday. That’s what I want to recreate…I care about the end state.”

It seems Hialeah’s owner for the past 31 years, John Brunetti, doesn’t much care what Minor wants. Although he agreed to sit down with Minor in August and to review a “voluminous” study, Brunetti is apparently still not selling the track. In September, he told Blood-Horse magazine that “I don’t think [Minor] understands this business.” (In an online forum, a racing fan had another interpretation, commenting that “Brunetti would sooner sell his kids than sell Hialeah.”)

Minor hasn’t given up his dream of becoming a racetrack impresario. Still, his newer, more ambitious, plans aren’t looking any more promising right now.

Last month, Minor proposed to the board of Ontario-based Magna Entertainment Corp. — which owns horse tracks around the U.S. — that they let him buy hundreds of millions of dollars of Magna’s debt and take over the company. Where Minor would get the money is a good question. (He has been spending up a storm in recent years.)

A bigger problem are the dramatically divergent visions of Minor and the real-estate company that controls Magna, lent it $286 million, and has been cool to Minor’s offer, according to Canada’s National Post.

While Minor, a self-described purist, considers slot machines a “cancer” to Thoroughbred racing and told the Post that he would “rather go to jail than have slots,” Magna’s owner hasn’t just imagined slots at the company’s tracks but nearby shopping, as well.

The holding company is going to get its way, too — at least at its Laurel Park track in Maryland. Yesterday, voters there approved a ballot measure that will allow Magna to install potentially thousands of slot machines on its property.