The new man at the helm of Frank Stronach’s Magna racing operation is named Greg Avioli, who spent the last several years running the Breeders’ Cup. I like Avioli and think he did his very best to improve and grow the Breeders’ Cup. But anything he may have done in the past or accomplished won’t matter one bit unless he is able to two utter two simple words to Stronach and utter them often. They are: “No, Frank.”
Stronach likes to surround himself with Yes Men and that is among the main reasons his operation has set new standards for being dysfunctional and continually coming up with the world’s worst ideas. Nobody, or so it seems, has the guts to say, “No, Frank.” And by rolling over every time Stronach comes up with another bad idea that can only fail, they are doing Stronach and the sport a disservice.
That’s how we got such things as the Slider, the purchase of Great Lakes Downs, the quadruple quadfecta, the Horse Wizard and the Sunshine Millions. One can only imagine what goes on behind the scenes at a Magna meeting, with Stronach coming up with the latest harebrained idea that has no chance of succeeding and his minions all nodding in approval and telling the boss just how darn smart he is.
In some respects, you can’t blame the Yes Men. Stronach changes executives about as often as the rest of us change our socks. At last count, there have 112 general managers at Gulfstream since Stronach took over and 216 at Santa Anita. It’s easy to imagine that having the gumption to stand up to Boss Stronach is career suicide. Agree with Frank. Keep your job, at least for a while. It’s as simple as that.
But let’s hope that Avioli is different and that Stronach, by hiring a high-profile guy and likely paying him a ton of money, is now willing to listen to sound advice from the people who work for him. Avioli is no dummy and, if left alone, can do the Magna Empire a lot of good. But he has to break free from the mold and be something other than the latest Yes Man. And Stronach has to give him some rein, give him a chance and be willing to be told, “No, Frank” without firing the guy.
On the first day of the job, Avioli needs to tell Stronach to stop coming up with these silly bets like the Slider that are impossible to hit and will never attract any serious play. To hit The Slider you must pick the winner of the first leg, hit the straight exacta in the second leg, hit the straight trifecta in the third leg and pick the straight superfecta in the fourth leg. You’d have a better chance of getting hit by lightning, winning Mega Millions and having Jennifer Aniston profess her undying love to you all in the same day than hitting The Slider.
Avioli needs to tell Stronach that Magna needs to instead concentrate on giving the customer a chance to actually go to the track and not go broke, which can be done by reducing takeout in bets that are popular and easily hit, like the exacta. He needs to tell him that Magna should lobby for a massive reduction in the takeout in California in an effort to make amends with the thousands of horseplayers who will no longer bet on Santa Anita because they’re tired of getting ripped off by some of the highest takeouts in the country.
He needs to get rid of the considerable dead weight within the Magna operation and the Yes Men and give added responsibilities to the people who have done such a good job this year at Gulfstream, notably Tim Ritvo and Steve Calabro. He needs to tell him to swallow his pride and bring back Lou Raffetto, simply the very best racing executive there is, to run the Maryland tracks or give him some other important job within the Magna family. He needs to tell Stronach that the Sunshine Millions is a colossal failure, a waste of purse money and has to go.
If Avioli does anything less he is doing Stronach and the sport a disservice and will go down as just the latest Yes Man who took Stronach’s money, toed the line and got fired anyway.
And Stronach needs to do his part, too. What he has been doing hasn’t been working. Magna has gone bankrupt, Santa Anita is a mess, Laurel and Pimlico are clinging to life. He needs to step aside and let a capable guy like Avioli make some decisions without interference and the looming threat that he will be fired if he ever stands up to the boss.
Will this be a new era for Magna or more of the same? Is Avioli really looking to make a difference or is he just hoping to create as few waves as possible and cash some big pay checks before he, too, gets canned? This is a fork in the road for Magna and Avioli can drive it off a cliff or help save a floundering outfit. But he has to be able to say, “No, Frank.” It’s up to him.
Originally Posted on ESPN