03/15/2012 1:58PM

Stronach Group names Mark Verge to oversee Santa Anita

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Mark Verge, a Los Angeles entrepreneur and horse owner, has been appointed to a senior position at the Stronach Group, the private company that owns Santa Anita Park and Gulfstream, Verge confirmed Thursday.

Verge, 44, will fulfill some of the duties that were handled by Greg Avioli, who resigned Wednesday, 11 months after the Stronach Group’s owner, Frank Stronach, hired him. In a press release, the Stronach Group said that Avioli’s resignation would be effective April 1. Verge’s duties will include overseeing all operations of Santa Anita, according to a Stronach Group official.

Verge, who is the owner of more than a dozen businesses in the Los Angeles area and is the author of a marital advice book called “Access to the Boy’s Club,” said that he will start at the Stronach Group on Saturday. He said that Stronach personally tapped him for the job.

“He made me a real nice offer,” Verge said. “I operate a lot of businesses and I’ve never taken orders from anyone. So I told him you either have to make me the owner or the guy. He gave me both. Starting on St. Patty’s Day, I’m the guy.”

Verge said he would receive equity in the company as part of his hiring. He declined to comment on the size of the stake.

Verge called the racetrack “his passion” and said that he would look to “shake things up” at the Stronach Group’s properties.

“If we can’t beat baseball and bowling, I’ll give up,” Verge said.

Avioli, who had been the president of the Breeders’ Cup for five years prior to going to the Stronach Group, said in a release distributed Wednesday afternoon that he was resigning to “move on to new business ventures outside the company.” He has not returned a message relayed through his assistant.

The Stronach Group was formed last July after shareholders of MI Developments, a publicly traded company, approved a deal transferring the company’s racing and gambling properties to Stronach in exchange for Stronach giving up control of MI Developments.

The racing and gambling properties had posted hundreds of millions of dollars in losses at MI Developments, which itself took the properties only after the bankruptcy of Magna Entertainment, another publicly traded company controlled by Stronach.

The assets owned by the Stronach Group include Santa Anita Park, Gulfstream Park, Golden Gate Fields, Laurel Park, and Pimlico Racecourse. In addition, the company owns a casino at Gulfstream, the account-wagering company XpressBet, and a half-share in HRTV.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman