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When sales ads trump bureaucrats

May 11, 2004 5:37 AM

There are a lot of scary shows on television, but none as utterly frightening as the Don and Dick horror show, featuring Donald Rumsfeld and his sidekick General Richard Myers. When these two talk about our role in the world — Donald with that toothy grin and Richard with that unchanging death mask expression — I turn off the set and cower under the covers.

Last week Donald, the man in charge of defending the nation as Secretary of Offense, told Congressional committees, with a straight face, that he had not seen video of the Iraq atrocities until 7:30 the night before, a week or so after 200 million Americans had been looking at them daily. This came just days after his trusted lieutenant, assistant hawk Paul Wolfowitz, told the Congressmen, when asked about how many deaths we had suffered in Iraq, that he guessed "around 500." At the time the total was over 700, and although high school kids knew the correct number the deputy secretary of defense, who loves war, did not.

That is so scary that I flipped off the tube and turned to eBay. I wasn’t in a buying mood, but eBay is entertainment, better than being insulted by people running the country.

The first listing I found stunned me.

It was for a racetrack, complete with everything, including beautiful surrounding mountains and valleys, 188,000 square-feet of existing buildings, 988 stalls for horses, some barn buildings "in need of some repairs" (anyone a fixer-upper around here?), a main building four stories high seating 16,000 with an escalator and elevator, two kitchens and one prep kitchen, two bars, and taxes of only $20,000 a year.

Oh, by the way. The track currently is closed, has no current license for dog or horse racing, is zoned commercial, and has the winding Hoosic River running through the property.

All this, with no environmental issues or code violations, for only $2.5 million.

The track in question is Green Mountain Race Track, located on 144 acres of beautiful New England land on U.S. route 7 in Pownal, Vermont.

That’s only a mile from the Massachusetts state line, and near the New York line as well, and it is — or was — a pretty racetrack in its day.

That day included thoroughbred racing, starting in 1963, harness racing later on, and still later dog racing under the famed Rooney family of Pittsburgh Steelers, Yonkers Raceway and Palm Beach Kennel Club fame.

Green Mountain couldn’t make it under any of those guises, and gave up the racing ghost 12 years ago. It has sat unoccupied since then, which might explain the "Sold in As-Is Condition" line on eBay.

A man named John Tietgens bought the track at public auction in the early 1990s, for $250,000.

More recently Tietgens’ grandson, Dr. Jeremy Sullivan, and a partner, Dr. Kenneth Bol, acquired it privately from Tietgens, under the name Omaha Investments. The good doctors have no desire to run a racetrack, nor of developing the property, but they are willing to sacrifice it for $2.5 million to someone who does. Thus the eBay ad. But why eBay? It is not a customary venue to sell racetracks.

"We’re not commercial developers," Dr. Bol explained, "but the family has deep history in the horse business and we would like to see that history continue. We decided to list the property on eBay because exposure is exposure. This is drawing nationwide and international contacts."

Dr. Bol says he has received more than 200 inquiries about the property, and the eBay listing has been hit more than 600 times. Some contacts are interested in the 144 acres for uses other than racing, some are interested in reviving racing there. Dr. Bol said he and his partner have contacted Churchill Downs and Magna Entertainment, but did not say what either giant told them.

I checked my piggy bank and came up a little short for a purchase.

Affordable or not, just looking at the picture of the pretty place is vastly more entertaining, and far less scary, than looking at and listening to Donald Rumsfeld.