Racing ‘Ideas Man’, CNET Founder Halsey Minor Files Bankruptcy

by | 05.31.2013 | 8:48am
Halsey Minor

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.

  • Bel

    I am sobbing right now for Minor, can you hear it? He is just another example of the idiom ‘a fool and his money will soon be parted’. And until someone proves that just like every so called bankrupt millionaire and billionaire before him, that no offshore accounts exist, I don’t feel I will sympathize much.

  • It boggles the mind that someone with $1.8 billion could squander it all. Eighteen hundred million dollars. I think it probably makes people a little crazy.

    • LongTimeEconomist

      He has not necessarily squandered it. He’s probably just seeking to hold off all his creditors until a plan is worked out to pay them off from his assets.

      • Maureen Tierney

        That is a good point. Bankruptcy is not the same as having no money. Trump has had many bankruptcies and he’s doing fine.

        • Don Reed

          Trump is a one-time-only example of a shrewd borrower who knew that if he acquired enough loans (which he did), should they fail, the banks would have to bail him out because the alternative was that everyone involved in the transactions would go under.

          It’s really a neat thing to watch, as the corruption of thought progresses.

          Finally, the workmen appear in front of Trump Tower. They unscrew the brass plate that grandly announces the name of the building & the company that built it.

          They go over to the bank across the street, remove the brass plate on the cornerstone of the bank, & in its place, install the TT plate.
          They then return to the Trump Tower cornerstone & rivet the bank’s brass plate into the marble facade.

          Great racket, this is.

    • Don Reed

      Imagine that. Someone who made Mike Tyson look like J.P. Morgan.

    • voiceofreason

      To be clear: He did not have $1.8 billion. That was the sales price of a company he held a small part of. His part was more like $350 million. With homes and business ventures, to people who are willing to risk, things can turn ugly quickly. But watch, he will extract himself and be back within a few years. As much as people like to attribute “dumb luck” to successes of others, people with IDEAS, people who seek out challenges, people willing to risk and people with a proven track record usually are there for a reason.

  • kyle

    Anybody who proposes a horse racing league…..well, lets just say its a tell

    • oldbay

      kyle? why? that is not why he went bankrupt. Is it because the way things now are is so great? Racing needs some new change to draw interest (besides from the flaming liberals who think medication is the only problem).

      • Maureen Tierney

        I agree. Racing does need new ideas. And when people brainstorm all ideas are put out there. Out of many bad ideas there will be some great ideas. No ideas is not as good as at least having an idea.

    • voiceofreason

      How dare this joker suggest change and improvement!

      This sport has enjoyed decades of across the board fan involvement and increased popularity. Remember years ago, when the NFL was more popular than horse racing? NASCAR? Horse racing has shown the incredible ability to adapt and make changes that improve the image and status of the sport. Let’s not forget, it took UNDER three decades to almost ban steroid usage… not to mention the almost ban on medications for use in babies. How dare this joker think he could improve things, or be so pompous as to suggest change.

      • kyle

        So: let’s pretend racing is something it is not and attempt the unworkable and the unpalatable. In the meantime, deny the true nature and appeal of the game and fight or dismiss straightforward systematic changes that would actually make a difference. I did not write that all his ideas were bad. I simply implied that this particular idea bespoke a basic misunderstanding on his part.

        • Maureen Tierney

          You didn’t even consider his idea. Many good ideas come from initially not great ideas. But consider this. Regions. Championships for West Coast, Northeast. Southeast, Midwest. Best horses from all regions meet in championship race to determine best of all regions. And I agree – certainly not really something horse racing NEEDS. But it is an idea that will build fan interest – and betting. We have very few individual horses to root for – but people can get behind a region. Don’t just trash an idea on first blush – really think about it – that is where winning ideas come from.

          • Pete B.

            Remember final 14? Major fail……

  • Virginia Boy

    Old saying, ” Wanna make a small fortune? Go into the horse business with a large one.”

  • LongTimeEconomist

    Just another example of the egomaniacal entrepreneur who thinks that just because he was a “genius” in one thing he did that he will be a genius in everything, including racing. I’ve seen them float in and out of the racing game for more than 50 years.

  • MyBigRed

    Just goes to show, Thank God, Mr. Minor did not purchase Hialeah, which is my favorite track. I’m sorry to hear about Mr. Minor’s money problems and all those people he owes money to.
    I remember my Dad always saying, Don’t count your chickens till they hatch.

    • upstarthere

      Have you seen Hialeah lately?

  • Don Reed

    I never have been able to see the “crossover value” between someone suddenly,
    stratospherically promoted into great financial wealth, & their long-term
    stability as orators proposing reform.

    They almost to a man step onto what they (consulting no one else) assume is solid ice, &
    when its actual dimension of thickness is betrayed when it breaks, down they go.

    Mr. Minor would have been better off investing in the dry towel business, which is
    revived whenever the Minors en masse attempt to recover from the plunge.

  • Don Reed

    Nelson Rockefeller, in his late twenties, despairing that his father would never take him seriously, argued that he should be allowed to invest in a company because in the past ten years, he had never been attracted to the chimera of horse ownership and the company of the Phipps and the Whitneys.

    It was a great argument. Whether or not his father saw the wisdom of his son’s vision is debatable.

  • Richard C

    For anyone who talked with him over the years, he was an engaging, interesting figure — and these folks in pop culture’s fast lane have a way of emerging from deep holes & jumping back into the games that the elite play.

  • Concerned Observer

    Just remember, lots of people have been in the horse business for many years and prospered.
    But is a monster that eats most of the knights that come to slay the dragon. Those that survive and prosper should be respected. Thiose that don’t are the norm.

  • Glimmerglass

    Karma. Enjoy.

    I do recall when many folks on these racing boards looked at him with a glint in their eye like he was the Magi. Amazing how quickly people line up behind someone just because they sound “good”.

  • 4Bellwether666

    Think they named this guy after “The Bull”???…Had heard from some folks in the “The Game” that he wasn’t working with a full deck then I saw he bought Carter’s Grove Plantation near Williamsburg Virginia and wanted to build a race track there…He also tried to buy Colonial Downs at some point in time then paid 3.3 million for Dream Rush…I knew then he needed some serious help but he knew it all…Oh well…

  • Sandra Warren

    No need to wear the hairshirt, Ray. When I read your initial report, I was really excited that Mr. Minor might bring back Hialeah. It was only later when I started reading Mr. Brunetti’s comments that I realized that Mr. Minor seemed to be airing plans for facilities whose owners had no wish to sell. Why would someone publicly talk about deals for tracks when the owner clearly will not sell the property, when there are so many other racetracks looking for new owners? That illogical act seems to point out a basic problem of personality: “But I WANT it!”

    • upstarthere

      Reading Brunetti’s comments. That says it all.

  • Roisin

    Sounds a little manic to me !!

  • Convene

    Well, we all know what the road to hell is paved with! Ideas and ambitions are fine, but somehow I think one needs to focus on one or two things and make ’em work before adding more ideas. I’m sorry for him – sort of – because no one enjoys this situation, but not as sorry as I might be for some. His attitude toward the Paulik report kind of detracts from his case. It will be interested to see what transpires.

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