Magna Ent. CEO dumps Pimlico president

May 20, 2008 7:00 PM

Industry Insider by Ray Poirier | There’s one thing that can be said about Frank Stronach, the founder and largest single stockholder in Magna Entertainment Corp. (MECA): he can’t stand the people he hires so he fires them soon afterward.

Since the company, the largest operator of horse tracks in North America, was founded in 2000, Stronach has replaced five CEOs and has since taken on the job himself, at least he says, until he can find a suitable person for the position.

In the most recent incident, Stronach has terminated Chris Dragone who for the past six months has been president of the Maryland Jockey Club, the company that owns Pimlico and Laurel racetracks. The MJC was acquired by Magna Entertainment late last year from Joe De Francis and his sister Karin.

Following the De Francis buyout, Stronach unceremoniously dumped the popular racing executive Lou Raffeto, saying he was unhappy with the financial performance of the Maryland Jockey Club under Raffeto’s stewardship.

However, during the most recent winter meeting, post Raffeto, the Maryland Jockey Club suffered a 24.7% drop in total all-source handle as wagering plunged from $291.7 million in 2007 to $219.8 million this year.

As for the parent company, Magna Entertainment has lost $306.4 million in the last three years and has seen its share price drop to a $0.30 per share level.

Dragone was not new to MECA. He has spent several years running the company’s tracks in Oregon and Michigan.

Replacing him will be Tom Chuckas whose principal experience has been in harness racing as the CEO of Cloverleaf Enterprises, operator of Rosecroft Raceway. He left the harness operation in February after 11 years.