Maryland's harness racing tracks may be under new ownership as early as Nov. 1 under a plan approved in U.S. bankruptcy court yesterday.
Judge James Schneider approved the $18.2 million sale of Rosecroft Raceway and Delmarva Downs from Mark Vogel to Colt Enterprises Inc. at a hearing in Baltimore.
The tracks have operated in the custody of trustee Jim Murphy and under court protection since January, when real-estate developer Vogel's mounting financial troubles forced him to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
After settlement, which trustee attorneys said should come at the end of the month, Colt Enterprises Inc. -- owned by Frederick Weisman of California -- will assume control of Rosecroft, near Fort Washington, and Delmarva, near Ocean City. Under the plans, the tracks' creditors will be repaid, the majority of them with interest. Licensing procedures also are expected to be completed by settlement.
Vogel apparently had objections to the reorganization plan, and legal maneuvers could have delayed the transfer into 1992. But Vogelsuddenly ended his opposition yesterday.
His attorney, Ira Wolpert, interrupted a witness to ask for a brief recess. After the recess, Wolpert announced that Vogel had decided to drop all objections and would file no appeal.
Then, Vogel, on the verge of tears, addressed the court.
"It's ironic that, in a short period of time, I've gone from being a star to more or less a groundhog," said Vogel. "I'm withdrawing mostly because I can no longer deal with the torment this is causing myself and my family.
"I wanted to do something for racing. I did not use the tracks as a vehicle to make money. Yes, I did use some of the money to prop up some of my real-estate projects, but not in my wildest dreams did I imagine the real-estate market would go as bad as it did. A lot of people have forgotten the time and money I've put into these tracks."
Schneider called Vogel's gesture to help expedite the sale "magnanimous," then quickly gave formal approval.
Vogel, already experiencing financial problems, in September 1990 was arrested for cocaine possession in Virginia, and the Maryland Racing Commission asked him to relinquish managing control of the tracks to Murphy, who became president and general manager. When Vogel filed for bankruptcy, Murphy was named as trustee, with the purpose of soliciting a buyer for the tracks. In June, Murphy announced he had approved the Weisman group and would present its reorganization plans to the court.
Lawrence Coppel, trustee attorney, said Colt Enterprises is prepared to make substantial physical improvements at Rosecroft and Delmarva, which have been appraised at $11.1 million and $1.4 million, respectively.
An injection of funds surely will be welcomed by the harness industry's participants and fans. Handle at the recently ended Rosecroft summer meet was down 15.3 percent from corresponding 1990 figures, continuing a negative trend that largely has coincided with the closing of Freestate Raceway in Laurel inSeptember 1989. (Rosecroft has operated on a virtually continuous basis since Freestate closed. Delmarva traditionally races only in a three-month summer period.)
Earlier, state assistant attorney general Bruce Spizler had told the court:
"What has transpired in [recent months] is that everything has been left to uncertainty as to the viability of harness racing in this state. There has been a substantial decrease in handle, at least in part because of a lack of direction. There's been no captain of the ship. It has been left to wander aimlessly."
Weisman, 78, has been involved in Maryland business for the past 20 years, said Coppel. His last major holding was Columbia-based Mid-Atlantic Toyota Distributorship, which he sold last year, reportedly for more than $100 million.
John H. Mosner Jr., chairman of the state racing commission, said the board has "received nothing but good reports" about Weisman's group.
Coppel said Chick Lang, former Pimlico Race Course general manager, will serve as interim general manager of the tracks.