04/02/2004 12:00AM

Among last of its type, Meadowbrook being sold


Meadowbrook Farm near Ocala is in the process of being sold to the Hyperion Training Center LLC, the business entity of Daniel and Diana Case. According to Daniel Case, the Cases have started a variety of businesses including real estate development, trucking, and mortgages. Since arriving in Florida recently from Paradise Valley, Ariz., the Cases said they have been involved in several development deals, including an effort to buy Noel and Bobby Hickey's Irish Acres Farm. That deal did not fly, according to Daniel Case, because of zoning problems.

The sale of Meadowbrook, owned by Barbara LaCroix and her son David, ends a 40-year period of accomplishment for one of the last of the family-founded and -operated Thoroughbred properties in the Ocala area. Among the family-owned Florida farms still going are Hobeau Farm, owned by Jack Dreyfus; Ocala Stud, owned by Mike O'Farrell; and Farnsworth Farms, owned by Mike Sherman.

The sale of Meadowbrook would not mean the end of the LaCroixs' involvement in the Florida Thoroughbred industry.

"If and when the sale goes through, we plan on continuing breeding and racing under the Meadowbrook Farm name but at a smaller scale," David LaCroix said. "We'll keep our farm condo along with some mares and yearlings."

The catastrophic fire of last May that burned down the Meadowbrook stallion barn along with several of its resident stallions, and the death of farm manager Mike Hovedon, gave impetus to the decision of the LaCroix family to sell out. David LaCroix will continue operate a public stable on the West Coast.

The Cases plan all sorts of horse-related development for the 660-acre site. Daniel Case estimated it will take $22 million to transform Meadowbrook Farm to the way he and his wife want it. This includes building an illuminated nine-furlong training track with a chute, barns to house an additional 500 stalls, and the resurrection of the Jockey Club, a gourmet restaurant that was closed last year. While the focus is on operating a Thoroughbred stallion station and a boarding and training operation, about half the property will be subdivided into 10 to 30 residential lots, said a local real estate agent who has already begun the marketing.

Legislative proposals

The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association announced a legislative agenda on Thursday. It contains two lists. The first is a sweeping list of changes to the statute that governs parimutuel activities in the state. The agenda also has what can best be described as a "wish list." It is doubtful that this agenda will be acted upon during the 2004 session of the Florida Legislature

Among the proposed changes is to allow, under certain circumstances, south Florida racetracks to operate as intertrack wagering facilities when not operating a live meet. The FTBOA also proposes that slots or video lottery terminals be allowed at racetracks, given the ever increasing threat of Indian operated casinos.

Two years ago Frank Stronach's Magna Entertainment purchased 450 acres off I-75 in Ocala for the announced purpose of developing a Thoroughbred track. Magna recently added to the original purchase with another 60 acres. The 510 acres is believed to have cost $8 million.

The Ocala Breeders' Sales Company, through a subsidiary, operates Ocala Jai Alai, the only parimutuel entity in the immediate area. Among the legislative proposals from the FTBOA is for the Legislature to give a green light to converting the jai-alai permit to a Thoroughbred permit. Norman E. Casse, chairman of the board of the OBS, said to local media when asked about the jai-alai-to-Thoroughbred conversion of the permit that "the OBS is favor of doing whatever is best for the industry."

Magna and OBS have had some conversations about working out a deal for a converted permit if it happens, said Mark Roberts who represents Frank Stronach, but these talks have yet to produce an agreement.

In the past neither Tampa Bay Downs, which is less than 100 miles away from Ocala, nor Calder Race Course in Miami have shown any enthusiasm for a racetrack in Ocala. Peter Berube, chief operating officer of Tampa Bay Downs, said that considering the present parameters, Tampa's position has not changed. Calder lobbyist Wilbur Brewton made a statement to the press that Calder Race Course favors legislation that addresses the entire wish list, and that if alternative gambling becomes available, other matters can be resolved.