The sale of Rosecroft Raceway and Delmarva Downs was approved yesterday by trustee Jim Murphy, signaling a likely end to a stormy chapter in Maryland harness racing history.
Murphy, trustee of the tracks since they were placed under the protection of a federal bankruptcy court in January, approved an $18.2 million bid by Colt Enterprises Inc., a company fully owned by Frederick Weisman of California.
"The proposal will be subject to the federal bankruptcy court for approval," Murphy said in a prepared statement. "[It] will be processed for approval as expeditiously as possible."
Weisman, 78, maintains an office in Columbia and plans to employ former Pimlico Race Course general manager Chick Lang as interim president and adviser.
Rosecroft, near Fort Washington, and Delmarva, near Ocean City, have been owned by real estate developer Mark Vogel since December 1987. Vogel's financial empire has collapsed, and soon after pleading guilty to cocaine possession in Virginia, he was forbidden by the Maryland Racing Commission to participate actively in the tracks' management.
Under Vogel's ownership, the tracks' debts are estimated at $17 million.
Lang, who left Pimlico in 1987, said his main purpose will be to find a president and general manager for the tracks. He said he believes many of the tracks' current employees will be retained. "They have a good nucleus," he said.
Pending approval by the court, Lang said he expects transfer of ownership to take several months.
Lang described Weisman as an "easygoing man with good business sense. I'm confident he's the man to turn harness racing around."
In the mid-to-late 1980s, harness racing in Maryland experienced halcyon days. But soon after Freestate Raceway in Laurel closed in 1989, business began to stagnate at Rosecroft, which races virtually year-round. Through 94 programs in 1991, handle is down 12.4 percent from 1990.
Murphy, the tracks' president and general manager since January 1990 before becoming trustee, declined to elaborate beyond the contents of a four-paragraph release on the approved sale.
In January, Murphy announced bids for the track would be accepted, with May 17 as the deadline. Only Weisman and a group headed by former Washington Redskins lineman Mark May submitted bids. The May group reportedly bid $18 million.