06/28/2011 3:25PM

Stronach sells $850 million worth of stock ahead of takeover of MI Developments racing assets


Frank Stronach, who is set to take over the racing and gambling assets owned by MI Developments on Thursday, has sold approximately $850 million of stock in the auto-parts company he founded since December, according to regulatory filings.

The massive series of sales underlines Stronach’s financial strength on the eve of the transfer, which will give the 78-year-old billionaire total control of some of racing’s most high-profile tracks, including Santa Anita Park in California and Gulfstream Park in Florida. In a deal approved by shareholders of MI Developments earlier this year, Stronach will take over the assets in exchange for giving up his control of MI Developments, satisfying stockholders who had been critical of the company’s commitment to assets that had already led one publicly traded company, Magna Entertainment, into bankruptcy, wiping out hundreds of millions of dollars in shareholder equity and bad debt.

The new company, which is being called the Stronach Group, will rely entirely on the cash flow generated by the properties, which also include a casino at Gulfstream Park; Laurel Park and Pimlico Racecourse in Maryland; an account-wagering company, XpressBet; and a half-stake in the racing broadcaster HRTV. Given the history of the assets – more than a decade of losses, even after being propped up by generous loans from Stronach-controlled companies – the outlook for the new company can’t be considered positive, especially when considering the significant financial strains of the racing industry at large.

However, Stronach’s personal fortune also will provide a substantial backstop to the company should the businesses falter. In fact, Stronach has recently indicated in interviews that he is willing to invest heavily in the new racing business as part of his legacy, in part because he will not have shareholders to push back against his proposals.

“I’ve still got 1,000 ideas, and I feel so constrained,” Stronach said in an interview with the Globe and Mail in Toronto, where Magna International and MI Developments are headquartered. “For every tiny little thing [to get approved], it’s an enormous waste of energy. We’re killing entrepreneurship.”

The new company will be headed up by Greg Avioli, the former chief executive of Breeders’ Cup. Avioli has said that the Stronach Group considers the racetracks to be “well-capitalized,” but he also said that he expects Stronach to provide funding to the company if its cash needs run short.

“If we do need additional capital, I’m fully confident for good reasons that we will be able to get that capital from the Stronach Group,” Avioli said.

Stronach’s daughter, Belinda, a former member of the Canadian House of Commons from 2004 to 2008, also will be part of the Stronach Group’s management, Avioli said. She is currently the vice chairman of Magna International and the chair of the Belinda Stronach Foundation, a charitable group.