This could be a critical week for the future of Maryland's harness racing industry.
Bankers and racing commissioners must work out solutions to the financial woes of beleaguered track owner Mark Vogel or jeopardize the scheduled season opener of Rosecroft Raceway on Friday night.
The urgency of the situation intensified last Friday when the First National Bank of Maryland froze the operating accounts of Rosecroft and its companion track, Delmarva Downs.
Vogel, whose other business ventures have resulted in some foreclosures or bankruptcies, reportedly missed two months of mortgage payments on loans totaling about $11 million that First National had made on the tracks.
The bank apparently had waited patiently on the sidelines as long as Vogel worked toward selling the tracks after his financial problems, as well as an arrest on a narcotics charge Sept. 13, had become public knowledge.
But the bank took a first step toward foreclosure last week when Vogel announced he would try to hold onto the tracks.
Action expected to take place this week:
* TODAY: Maryland Racing Commission executives probably will try to contact First National officials to find out more information about their position or possible approach to sorting out the Vogel morass.
* TOMORROW: Vogel has said he will meet with bank officials to try to work out a deal to maintain financial solvency of his racetrack interests. Some possible solutions: Vogel comes up with a deal to avoid foreclosure, such as identifying new sources of capital or investors to buy into the track. Vogel changes his mind and decides to put the tracks back on the market. The bank takes further steps toward foreclosure and takes over day-to-day operation of the tracks. Vogel files for bankruptcy protection.
* WEDNESDAY: The commission meets to renew Vogel's operating license so that Rosecroft can open Friday night. Usually, this is a mundane procedure. But the commission must be satisfied that the bank and Vogel have reached a workable financial agreement. Other obstacles facing Vogel in his quest for license renewal: his admitted use of cocaine in newspaper accounts. Such drug use by license applicants could be cause for cancellation.
* FRIDAY: Rosecroft is scheduled to open. There could be a problem filling the better races. During the recent three-week break, some of the quality horses have been racing at the Meadowlands and owners and trainers could be reluctant to leave there considering the uncertain status of the Rosecroft meet.
Whatever happens, some observers feel the image of the harness industry has been sullied by the almost daily accounts of Vogel's financial woes, mismanagement of funds, cocaine use and involvement in a federal probe linking him to a circle of allegedly corrupt lawyers, politicians and developers.
However, Vogel has said he has been good for harness racing, pumping as much as $10 million into improving a moribund track and only ran into difficulty when the local real estate market collapsed.