Twenty-seven full-time employees of Thoroughbred Times in Lexington, Ky., were notified Saturday morning they are without jobs after the company owned by Norman Ridker filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and ceased operations, effective immediately. The magazine, which was launched 27 years ago this week, recently switched from a weekly format to twice monthly. It also published the Thoroughbred Times Today electronic newsletter, the Stallion Directory, Buyer's Guide, and a website, ThoroughbredTimes.com.
Mark Simon, who helped launch the publication in 1985 with the late Richard F. Broadbent III and – except for a brief period in 1992 when the magazine was owned by Peter Brant – has served as its only chief editor. He said he learned of the bankruptcy filing and shuttering on Saturday morning in a letter from Ridker that arrived via Federal Express. Other employees learned the same way. The company laid off five workers in their art and production departments two weeks ago.
“I was shocked, though in a way I really shouldn't have been,” Simon told the Paulick Report. “We'd been struggling. He (Ridker) buried the company with debt and overhead from other publications.”
Simon said the Thoroughbred Times was paying for 11 employees who were working for other publications owned under a different business entity by Ridker, including Hobby Farms, Young Rider, and Horse Illustrated. Those employees, who had been working in the Thoroughbred Times building near Leestown Road in Lexington, moved to different offices earlier this week.
“They were on the Thoroughbred Times payroll and we were also paying for their health care,” he said. “We paid hundreds of thousands of dollars of those salaries, a lot of money every year.”
Employees of Thoroughbred Times will have to wait to hear from a bankruptcy court trustee before they find out if and when they will be paid all of the money owed them for the last payroll period, vacation time, or reimbursements for travel expenses.
“The trustee has control of all the assets and liabilities,” Simon said. “Norman at this juncture has relinquished all control.”
Employees who tried to enter the Thoroughbred Times office Saturday morning to retrieve personal belongings found the building locked. “He didn't have the courage to tell people himself or send someone to tell the employees yesterday,” Simon said.
The Thoroughbred Times was launched by Simon and Broadbent when there were two other weekly Thoroughbred magazines published in the U.S.: The Blood-Horse and Thoroughbred Record. Published initially as a black-and-white weekly tabloid, the Times in November 1988 merged with Thoroughbred Record, where Simon began working in 1977. (Full disclosure: I worked at Thoroughbred Times for three years, from March 1988-February 1991.)
At the time of the merger, the Thoroughbred Record was being published by Peter Brant as a monthly magazine. Before long, it ceased publications entirely and was incorporated into the Thoroughbred Times. Brant and Broadbent became embroiled in a lawsuit in 1992, with Brant taking control of the company, replacing Simon as editor, and adding color photographs to the cover and some sections of the Times.
On Jan. 1, 1993, the Times was sold to Ridker, a successful publisher based in Beverly Hills, Calif., with a wide variety of magazines (Dog Fancy, Cat Fancy, Horse Illustrated, Hawaii magazine, among others have been part of his Bowtie Press/Fancy Publications). Ridker transformed the Times into all color and invested heavily in circulation development, bringing the number of subscribers to over 25,000 – higher than The Blood-Horse – by the mid-1990s.
In recent years, however, as print publications – weekly news magazines in particular – have suffered, circulation and advertising support at Thoroughbred Times dropped. Staff turnover has been high in some departments, and the move in July to a twice-monthly more feature-oriented format did not have time to be fully tested.
“We had a good response to (the new format),” Simon said. “But Norman just had so much debt he couldn't get out from under it.”
Over the years, the Thoroughbred Times has won Eclipse Awards for writing, photography and multi-media and numerous honors from American Horse Publications.
“We had a great staff and had a lot of really good people working here over the years,” Simon said. “They did a great job. We always had the smallest staff but it was best-quality staff.”
Simon expressed hope that someone would come along and work with the bankruptcy trustee to buy the company's assets and start publishing under the Thoroughbred Times banner again.
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