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Magna Entertainment pushing Ocala facility

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 23, 2002

OLDSMAR -- Magna Entertainment's stealthy plan to possibly open a new facility in Ocala apparently has made further progress with the purchase of property near Interstate 75.

A company affiliated with Frank Stronach's national horse racing conglomerate recently added seven residential properties to a large cache of land he controls, the Ocala Star-Banner reported. Magna has options on several hundred more acres and should own them by the end of the year.

As Magna, which owns 11 tracks, including Gulfstream and Santa Anita, continues developing bonds with local governments, one thing appears to impede its construction of a mid-Florida venue: current law.

Florida statutes prohibit opening "parimutuel operations" within 100 miles of an existing facility, and Ocala is just within the boundary of Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar.

Downs general manager Peter Berube declined to consider scenarios of how a Magna venture would affect his track.

"To speculate is a fruitless endeavor," he said.

Perhaps Stronach anticipates a change in the law. There was unsuccessful support for deregulation in the Florida Legislature last year.

But does a track in Marion County make sense? Ocala is undoubtedly to-the-core horse country, but drawing fans could be a problem.

Still, Mark Roberts, manager of Stronach's Adena Spring South farm, told the Star-Banner that Magna was negotiating with Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. for the right to operate live meets inside Marion County. Ocala Breeders has operated two simulcast parlors there since receiving special dispensation in the early 1990s.

Lonnie Parizek, spokesman for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, said Magna had not submitted an application to open a racetrack in Ocala.

FAMILIAR PATH: Trainer Neil Drysdale plans to enter Sunday Break, possibly the best colt not to compete in a Triple Crown race this year, in the Peter Pan Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park. If he performs well, he might finally get his chance at ruining War Emblem's dash for history June 8 in the Belmont Stakes.

Sunday Break created a buzz by finishing third in the Wood Memorial but had insufficient graded earnings to crack the top 20 and make the Derby field. Drysdale passed on the Preakness and now hopes the colt can follow A.P. Indy's path in winning the Peter Pan and the Belmont. Drysdale had to scratch A.P. Indy from the 1992 Kentucky Derby on race day because of a foot malady.

BREED APART: Spain, the leading distaff money-earner of all time, was bred to Storm Cat on May 15 before being returned to trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

She could race a few more times before retirement. Spain, a 5-year-old daughter of Thunder Gulch, surpassed Serena's Song in earnings ($3,303,314) by winning the Grade II Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap on May 3 at Churchill Downs.

Storm Cat stands at Overbrook Farm in Kentucky.

Spain, owned by the Thoroughbred Corp., has 8 wins, 9 seconds and 6 thirds in 33 starts. She earned $1,227,200 with a surprise win in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs.

REST TIME: Harlan's Holiday, the one-time Kentucky Derby favorite after winning the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, will not contest the Belmont after finishing seventh in the Derby and fourth in the Preakness.

Trainer Ken McPeek said the colt will be pointed toward the Grade I Travers Stakes on Aug. 24 at Saratoga.

Harlan's Holiday finished 3 lengths behind War Emblem in the Preakness.

-- Information from other news organizations contributed to this report.

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