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


 

Greg Brent More than 1 year ago
All of us who care dearly about horse racing want to see it thrive in California. With the economic situation (gas price over $4 a gallon) and competition from casino-driven racetracks offering exorbitant purses that decimate our horse inventory, the challenge is large. We should all wish Mr. Verge the best in his efforts, bringing his intellect and perhaps a different perspective to this business.
Andrew Chitko More than 1 year ago
If Mr. Stronach actually hands the reins to Mr. Verge and lets him run the business, it will be the best horse racing decision The Stronach Group/Magna has ever made. You can take that to the bank. As long as Mr. Stronach doesn't play the "Jerry Jones" role in the relationship I think this is all great news. Good luck...and safe trip!
Ryan Soriano More than 1 year ago
What a complete joke. How many resignations or firings is that now STRONACH ?? It's a real shame that such a majectic place as Santa Anita would have someone like him as an owner. He needs to look in the mirror rather than blame other people. You may be a good breeder, horse owner, etc, but as a business man running a race track, you completely STINK..... Santa Anita deserves better. New ownership is needed, not another talking head with so called "passion for the game" Judging by the statement of the new hire, "I never have taken orders", clearly we are off to bad start... Regretably, any and all insiders with the power to speak and move things won't say anything to rock the boat. The game needs to be changed from top down. Santa Anita is the classic example. Will they even have 2500 people there today ? Does anyone other than true passionate horse players/owners such as myself care about this game ?