Yes, I'll go ahead and admit to what someone said on Twitter after news broke that Internet entrepreneur and horse racing enthusiast Halsey Minor had filed for Chapter 7 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Central District of California: I had been “drinking the Halsey Minor Kool-Aid.”
Going back to my first meeting with Minor more than a decade ago, I remember a quick-thinking guy who seemed focused on the road ahead. That's how he co-founded CNET, the dotcom company that CBS bought for $1.8 billion in 2008. He saw horse racing as a sport that needed to embrace technology in all its known and unknown forms, from online to high-definition to social networks and beyond. He had ideas and he had money.
That first meeting (and only face-to-face one, it turns out) focused on whether or not 2002 was a good time to invest in Thoroughbred horses. It wasn't, and he didn't. Five years later, when the bloodstock market was at its peak was an even worse time. This time, he pulled the investment trigger, spending millions, including $3.3 million for the filly Dream Rush, who did go on to win a minor stakes carrying the silks of Minor Stables.
But his attention shifted from the stable area of racetracks to the executive offices. He wanted to buy Santa Anita Park. He wanted to buy Pimlico and Laurel. He wanted to buy Hialeah Park. He wanted to build his own racetrack in Virginia. He had very public disputes with Frank Stronach and John Brunetti.
We talked. Many of his ideas over the years were outside the box. He proposed a horse racing league with teams of horses from one city and track taking on teams from other cities. He put money and life into the proposal, which predictably never got off the ground.
He hated slot machines and saw little crossover value in a marriage between racing and casinos. He saw Hialeah Park, then crumbling and virtually abandoned, as a symbol of what had gone wrong with the great American sport he so revered growing up in Virginia in the era of Riva Ridge and Secretariat.
But his focus was diverted to saving other institutions. A mansion in San Francisco, a plantation in Virginia that was to become his great Thoroughbred breeding and racing base. A hotel in Charlottesville, Va.
His focus on the future turned 180 degrees. He stopped building successful companies, seemed to become more defensive and combative than before, talking of his singular accomplishment from the past, CNET, instead of the many things he was going to do in the future. Bills piled up, including those from stallion farms and tax boards and horse trainers and veterinarians and lawyers. Lots of lawyers. Even pest control companies.
In the meantime, the Paulick Report began detailing Minor's financial woes, from the forced sale of some of his properties to his ranking as the No. 1 tax deadbeat in California. (He called to remind me that if he OWED $10 million in taxes, that means his income was REALLY high!)
I'm not sure what the final straw was, but the last phone call was ugly. Because the Paulick Report reported his financial problems just as we had chronicled his enthusiastic hopes to transform horse racing to something only he could truly visualize, we became “the reason this industry has failed.”
Click. And so it goes.
The mercurial Mr. Minor had ideas and had money. I suppose he STILL has ideas, and will, no doubt, emerge some day with the next big thing that will put him back in private jets and mansions and all the good things he had become accustomed to.
In the meantime, the bankruptcy court will start looking at his $10 million to $50 million in assets and his $50 million to $100 million in liabilities and decide who among the 50-99 creditors will get paid.
Read the bankruptcy filing here.
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