Now, the magazine’s devotees worry, Bellissimo might use their horse bible — billed on its Facebook page as “The Wall Street Journal of Horse Sports ... but better!” — as a promotional vehicle for his annual 12-week Florida horse show circuit, an accusation that the new owner strongly denies.
In an interview, Bellissimo vowed that he will never meddle with the editorial mission of the Chronicle, which covers horse sports around the world and in recent years has written about illegal horse injections and horse slaughter. Bellissimo, whose company, Wellington Equestrian Partners, owns and operates more than $250 million worth of assets, said he wouldn’t halt the Chronicle from digging into his own business.
“I don’t think we’ve ever done anything to elicit an investigation, but do I believe there’s a circumstance where I might make a decision that catches some attention? Absolutely,” Bellissimo said. “There’s going to be a circumstance where [the Chronicle] is going to call it like they see it.”
Since Bellissimo, 51, purchased the Chronicle in mid-July, readers have been venting in the magazine’s online forum, a kind of country club for mannered and fanatical horse enthusiasts. To even register as a commenter, one must answer trivia questions like: “If Mr. Ed was an off-the-track Thoroughbred, we might have seen one of these when he was flapping his lips with Wilbur.” (Answer: Tattoo.) Or: “If the farrier shoes three geldings in front and trims four more, how many shoes does the farrier need?” (Answer: Six.)
Under the comment thread headlined, “Bellissimo has bought COTH!” one person likened the Chronicle’s sale to the Wall Street Journal’s in 2007: “This is starting to feel a little Rupert Murdoch-ish...ewwwwww.”
When one of the Chronicle’s nearly 20 employees posted a link to the magazine editor’s op-ed — headlined, “New Owner, New Future, Same Product” — one reader unleashed a verbal horse whip: “In all deference to the editorial content of the link you posted: Sounds like a lot of PR spin to me.”
Bellissimo braved the forum himself, promising readers that the editors will have “free rein” in the stories they pursue, even if they’re about his Florida horse show. Since Bellissimo bought the Winter Equestrian Festival in 2006, the show has grown from a laid-back affair with $2 million in prize money to a carnival-like event boasting $7.5 million in awards. It now features not just horses, but fire eaters, magicians and a carousel, all to lure in people who may not know the difference between a gelding and a stallion.