Less than eight months after Frank Stronach hired him to bring fresh ideas and a younger demographic to Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., and less than a week after the track hosted the 2012 Breeders' Cup, Mark Verge has stepped down as CEO.
Verge was hired in March to replace Greg Avioli, the former CEO of the Breeders' Cup.
“Mark has a lot of other businesses, and apparently he came to the realization that this place was all-consuming and that he was going to have to devote more time to his other businesses,” said Mike Willman, Santa Anita's director of publicity.
A horse owner and close friend of 2012 Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill, Verge drew criticism from the California Horse Racing Board at a July meeting for his planned marketing of the Santa Anita fall meet, much of which centered around O'Neill (including an O'Neill bobblehead giveaway), who served a lengthy suspension this summer for a medication violation. Verge then had a verbal altercation with the wife of trainer Bob Baffert at the post position draw for Del Mar's Pacific Classic, days after Verge and partners bought the horse Richard's Kid and moved him from Baffert to O'Neill's barn. That altercation, insiders said, doomed Verge's chances of making it past the fall meet as Santa Anita's CEO.
Department heads were notified of Verge's departure during a Thursday meeting.
Also leaving, according to sources, are a number of people hired by Verge, including Jimmy Dunne, who was named Santa Anita's Chief Creative Officer and wrote a song, “My California,” that was played daily and widely panned by anyone who heard it. Cedd Moses, a cocktail impresario in the Los Angeles area brought on as beverage consultant, is also leaving, as is media consultant and director of sponsorship Damien Lewis, among others.
George Haines, the track's longtime general manager, is expected to run Santa Anita for the near term. There is no word on whether Gene Simmons, the reality TV show and rock star who has been frontman for the band KISS for decades, will be brought on-board as a marketing consultant or track executive. In an Oct. 18 article, the Paulick Report first reported on the likelihood that Verge would soon be leaving and that Simmons had been engaged in high-level meetings concerning Santa Anita with Frank Stronach's daughter, Belinda, and others from the corporate office of the Stronach Group.
By our count, Verge is the 10th executive hired by Stronach to run Santa Anita since purchasing the track in 1998.
Santa Anita Park opens its winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26.
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