According to several reports, a client of West Point Thoroughbreds is set to become the new owner of the Florida Panthers National Hockey League franchise. New York financier Vincent Viola will reportedly pay $250 million for the South Florida team, in a deal to be announced Friday.
Viola, CEO of electronic trading firm, Virtu Financial, previously served as chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange. He has a military background, having graduated from West Point and served in the U.S. Army Reserves. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Viola created the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
The military connection brought Viola together with West Point Thoroughbreds founder and president Terry Finley, also a graduate of the military academy. Finley said Viola has recently gotten back into racing ownership after selling his minority stake in the NBA's New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets).
“Vinnie absolutely loves the horse business,” said Finley. “He went to Aqueduct with his father as a young kid like a lot of us, and he's spent a lot of time on his horse business.”
Viola and his wife, Teresa, race under St. Elias Stable and currently own about 25 Thoroughbreds – mostly 2-year-olds – either alone or in partnership with West Point. The juveniles include a couple runners Viola hopes to get into this year's Breeders' Cup: the Midnight Lute filly, Miss Layfayette, who is prepping in California and Tiznowforamerica, a Tiznow colt pointing for a next start at Keeneland.
Viola also owns a piece of Peter Pan Stakes winner, Freedom Child, who was retired to stud last month at Country Life Farm in Maryland.
Viola will have his work cut out with the Florida Panthers, a team that has only been to the playoffs once since 2000, but Finley believes Viola will turn things around.
“He's a really big thinker. That team better be ready to change their culture. If it's anything like the vast majority of other things Vinnie Viola has been involved with, they're going to good for a very long time.”
Viola's ownership of the Panthers might also present some cross-marketing opportunities with horse racing in South Florida.
Viola will add his name to a list of several sportsmen who've owned both Thoroughbreds and sports franchises. That list includes famed New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner; Eugene Klein, one-time owner of the San Diego Chargers and a major figure in horse racing in the 1980's; John Galbreath, longtime owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates and early pioneer of Darby Dan Farm; and current owner of the Houston Texans, Bob McNair.
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