Harness industry's problems still receive top priority with Riley

September 30, 1990|By Dale Austin

Because of an editing error, Dennis Potts was incorrectl identified in yesterday's editions as being immediate past president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. Mr. Potts was vice president. Richard Hoffberger has been elected to his fourth term as president of the association.

State Sen. Catherine Riley (D-Harford County) has been trying to save harness racing from itself, just as she worked three years ago to make sure that the Preakness didn't leave the state unless Marylanders were willing to let it go.

Riley, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which takes up most racing bills as they work their way through the Maryland General Assembly, did not run for re-election and will not be in office when the next session opens in January.


But she still is concerned about certain racing problems in Maryland, and she was working to avert them long before Mark Vogel's financial difficulties surfaced.

The owner of Maryland's only two harness tracks, Rosecroft Raceway and Delmarva Downs, Vogel is in deep financial trouble, mainly because of his real-estate investments.

The concern among harness racing people is that if Vogel defaults on loans for the two tracks, the banks that hold mortgages on them might sell the tracks for use other than


When reports emerged four years ago that Bob Brennan might buy the Preakness from Pimlico and move it to Garden State, Riley managed to push through a law that made such a sale conditional on the state's right of first refusal.

When Vogel bought the Freestate racing dates from Frank De Francis, the late owner of that track and Laurel and Pimlico race courses, he transferred them to Rosecroft.

In June, Riley proposed that the state have the right of first refusal to buy Rosecroft if Vogel tried to sell it to interests that would discontinue night races for trotters and pacers.

She put her ideas into a bill in order to force the Maryland Racing Commission to consider what it might need to do.

"It doesn't have to be a right-of-first-refusal stipulation," she said Friday. "I just want to get the commission to start talking. I just wanted to push them in the right direction. I have been told that the commission will try to come up with some ideas."


Vogel's campaign to buy Atlantic City Race Course, a thoroughbred track, for $17 million ended late Friday afternoon.

It was a foregone conclusion that he would not buy the track because Vogel doesn't have $17 million or means to get that large a loan.

But until yesterday, no one would acknowledge this.

"He had a deadline of the end of September to close a deal," said Jim Murphy, the Atlantic City general manager who was assisting Vogel with the Rosecroft deal.

"But at the end of the last business day in the month means it's all over."

Bob Levy, whose family owns the track in New Jersey, said Friday that Vogel had defaulted on a deposit that he made toward in April on the track purchase.

When asked if the deposit had been as much as $1 million, Levy said, "It was a lot. Almost that high."

Atlantic City Race Course is "off the market," said Levy, but his friends claim that what he really means is that it is off the market to anyone who doesn't have $17 million.


Problems facing the harness industry today can be traced back the time when De Francis sold property on which Freestate was located to the Cafritz Builders in Washington for about $17 million and, at the same time, sold dates to Vogel for $7 million-plus for transfer to Rosecroft.

Before the sale, De Francis obtained permission to conduct intertrack betting between Pimlico and Laurel race courses.

Laurel and Freestate are less than two miles apart, and experts say that De Francis could not have obtained approval for intertrack bets at Laurel if he had not owned Freestate also.

He was permitted to sell Freestate, however, with the condition that the dates be moved to Rosecroft. He thereby eliminated it from nearby competition and got paid extremely well.

The General Assembly will be considering ways to avert such action in the future.


The naming of a race at Fair Hill in honor of the late amateur steeplechase rider, E.H. "Tiger" Bennett, was well received by Marylanders.

Bennett, who died in February and bequeathed $7,500 for a race to be named for him, took a great deal of razzing when he sent Carolina over the wrong fence in the Maryland Hunt Cup of 1948 and was disqualified from the winner's spot.

In its obituary of Bennett, the Maryland Horse magazine said that in a speech after that occasion, Bennett paraphrased Alfred Lord Tennyson's famous lines about love: "Better to have won and lost than never to have won at all."

Richard Hoffberger has been re-elected president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association for a fourth term.

Hoffberger was elected president by the MTHA board, which elected trainer Ferris Allen as vice president. Hoffberger succeeds Dennis Potts.

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