For sale: tracks Several groups express interest in buying Vogel's properties

October 02, 1990|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Evening Sun Staff

As many as three or four parties in the last day have expressed interest in buying the state's two harness tracks, but no one has made a bonafide offer, said Jim Murphy, the tracks' general manager and state-appointed conservator.

Murphy said he knew that it was "inevitable" that Mark Vogel, the track's financially-troubled owner, "had to come to the realization he had to sell them, but I just learned that he had made it public last night."

Ladbrokes, a British gambling conglomerate; Ocean City attorney Paul Ewell, and two other groups within the harness industry so far have expressed interest in both Rosecroft and Delmarva Downs, Murphy said. But none of them has made a serious offer.

"It will take a couple of weeks for the groups to make a formal expression of interest, and then send in their people to review and analyze the situation," Murphy said.

Murphy took over the tracks last week when Vogel was arrested on cocaine charges and subsequent investigation led state racing officials to seize control.

Murphy said Vogel has invested between $20-22 million into the tracks and that the asking price would be in that range.

Murphy said, "People are going to like what they see when they look at the books. We will have people bidding against each other. These are good, valuable assets. There is also the potential for improvement, with the possibility of off-track betting and simulcasting at Timonium."

When the crash came, Vogel was attempting to buy Atlantic Cit Race Track for $17 million, but a major re-financing program fell through. Vogel also was trying to replace $2.75 million he had diverted from Rosecroft to bail out other business ventures.

"He had a letter [of commitment]," Murphy said. "He had bee waiting July, August and September for the re-financing to come through, and when it did, he'd be back on top of the world. But it didn't work out."

It is Murphy's business expertise that has helped mak Rosecroft and Delmarva Downs attractive commodities. He took intertrack wagering plan that was successful at Atlantic City Race Track and applied the same formula here.

Murphy boosted the average daily handles for both tracks b introducing intertrack betting between the two facilities. Ironically, he is now in charge of dispersing the successful operations he helped create.

By all rights, Murphy shouldn't even be here. He originally cam to Rosecroft last winter after Vogel signed an agreement to buy Atlantic City's track, where Murphy has been (and still is) president and general manager since 1985.

For most of his career, since graduating from the University of Pennsylvania's prestigious Wharton School of Business, Murphy has been associated with Bob Levy, principal owner of the Atlantic City track and one of thoroughbred racing's most prominent horsemen. But Vogel couldn't come up with the money, the deal falling though once and for all last weekend, and Murphy, in the immortal words of Chris Thomas, should be "outta here."

But "now is not the time to put somebody on the learning crew, Murphy said. "I'm the one person who knows the figures and can bring some stability to the operation."

Murphy says Rosecroft is in a lot better shape than most peopl think. "For one thing, the story about the track being used as collateral for a loan from the Riggs Bank is wrong," he said. "I know, because I saw the agreement. Mark only pledged his management fee as collateral, and then only if the track had the funds available to pay it. The management fee was substantial, up to $200,000 a month, but again, this had to be approved by Rosecroft's board of directors by Sept. 28. They never voted on it, so it's all much ado about nothing."

Murphy is proud of the numbers Rosecroft has posted thi summer, especially since it's the first year harness racing in the state has had an extended meet at one track (Rosecroft opened Jan. 12 and has been racing continuously).

Business overall has been up 4 to 5 percent, "compared to a percent decline at Laurel, and they were racing for the first time without competition from Freestate," Murphy said.

He attributes the success to intertrack betting between Rosecroft and Delmarva Downs. Each track simulcasted each other's card, giving the fans virtually non-stop betting action on as many as 20 races. At Delmarva, betting was up an astounding 56 percent.

Murphy also instituted "All Triple" nights on Fridays and the trac registered the biggest night in Maryland harness history when $1.4 million was bet on Messenger Stakes night, when Rosecroft presented the second leg of the harness Triple Crown.

Rosecroft's success comes as no surprise to anyone familia with Murphy.

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