09/06/2005 11:00PM

Magna houses 275 storm victims in Fla.


Magna Entertainment has converted its Palm Meadows training center in southern Florida into a temporary refugee camp for people left homeless by Hurricane Katrina and plans to build a permanent housing complex in Louisiana for up to 1,000 people displaced by the flooding and devastation, Magna officials said Tuesday.

The relief effort is one of many being undertaken by the Thoroughbred industry, with the latest initiatives including a disaster fund at Keeneland, a Harrah's relief fund and employee hot line, and a donation drive organized by Cargill Horse Transportation in California.

About 275 refugees, all from the New Orleans area, have been given shelter in the 200 apartments at Palm Meadows that are reserved for working grooms, according to Scott Savin, the president of Magna's Gulfstream Park in Florida. No grooms are occupying the rooms, which are air-conditioned and include microwave ovens as well as separate bathrooms with showers.

Savin said that the local communities surrounding the training centers had donated "thousands" of items of clothing, toys, and toiletries to the refugees. Some of those local communities also prepared meals to give to the refugees when they arrived.

"It's just been absolutely amazing to see the amount of support that people have given," Savin said.

Savin said that Frank Stronach, the chairman of Magna, decided to offer the quarters to refugees last week. By Friday, Magna officials were coordinating the effort with the Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency out of Montgomery, Ala., Savin said, including hiring buses in Miami to aid in the evacuation effort. The Red Cross is now administering the center at Palm Beach.

Dennis Mills, the vice chairman of Magna, which is based in Toronto, said that the company is planning to build a "village" near Baton Rouge, La., that would house the refugees already at Palm Meadows. The first phase of the project will be completed by November, when the training center opens.

The housing complex will be expanded to provide shelter for 1,000 people after the initial phase is built, Mills said. Other Canadian companies have offered to join the project, Mills said, although he declined to name the companies.

"We are welcoming anyone that wants to join us to build something special," Mills said.


The Keeneland Association has announced that it will join the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and Thoroughbred Charities of America to open a disaster relief fund for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Bill Casner, co-owner of WinStar Farm and chairman of TOBA, and his wife, Susan, have committed to match up to $1 million raised during Keeneland's Sept. 12-26 yearling sale.

"Keeneland's September yearling sale is the logical place to host an initiative like this," Casner said. "It gives members of the Thoroughbred industry, who are anxious to assist, a vehicle for their contributions. It is imperative that we as an industry unite in support of the recovery and rebuilding of those lives that have been devastated by this disaster."

Keeneland will accept donations at the sales counter in the auction pavilion or by mail at the Keeneland Foundation, P.O. Box 1690, Lexington, KY 40588-1690, to the attention of Fran Taylor.

TOBA also will accept donations at its Sept. 9 national awards dinner at the Kentucky Horse Park. A significant portion of the donations will go to assist hurricane victims who work in the Thoroughbred industry.


Harrah's Entertainment, the national casino company that owns Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., is working with the American Red Cross and has set up a shelter for evacuees in the sales pavilion area at the racetrack.

Harrah's has also established a toll-free contact number, (877) 422-7466, for 6,000 employees from three of its casinos that sustained damage from the hurricane and are closed indefinitely: Harrah's New Orleans in Louisiana, and Grand Casino Biloxi and Grand Casino Gulfport in Mississippi. The company wants to account for displaced employees and offer relief support, and it will provide base pay to those employees for up to 90 days.

The company has also established the Harrah's Employee Recovery Fund with an initial $1 million grant from the Harrah's Foundation. It will provide employees with emergency relief and long-term rebuilding support, according to Harrah's officials.

Harrah's has insurance covering business interruption and property damage at the three properties on the Gulf Coast. The company is working to place employees from those properties in jobs at its other facilities, including Louisiana Downs. Harrah's is also establishing an employee information center at its corporate offices in Memphis, Tenn.

Louisiana Downs is about a five-hour drive from New Orleans, and the facility did not experience damage from Hurricane Katrina. Fair Grounds in New Orleans was not as fortunate, however, and that track's owner, Churchill Downs Inc., is in talks with Harrah's to hold its Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs, whose current Thoroughbred meet will end Oct. 9.

The assistant director of security at Fair Grounds, Jim Schanbien, said on Wednesday that the facility did not sustain much structural damage beyond what was shown on television last week, which included damage to the grandstand's roof and blown-out windows on the west end of the structure. Schanbien was one of seven Fair Grounds employees who was at the track when the storm hit.

Churchill Downs Inc. had located 267 of approximately 500 Fair Grounds employees as of Wednesday, and efforts to locate the others were continuing, said Julie Koenig-Loignon, director of communications.


Cargill Horse Transportation in California will collect nonperishables such as clothing, blankets, pillows, diapers, bottled water, and toiletries at tracks throughout the state from Friday through Monday.

Donations will be accepted at the California Thoroughbred Trainers office at Santa Anita, at Gate 9 at Fairplex Park, in Fairplex's grandstand, and at Bay Meadows. Cargill officials said the collected goods will be shipped to the affected areas on Tuesday evening.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen, Glenye Cain, and Mary Rampellini