De Francis getting foot in Texas door?

HORSE RACING

December 08, 1991|By MARTY McGEE

When all is said and done, the announcement last week by Laurel/Pimlico president Joe De Francis that he is "assisting" a group led by Preston Carter in its bid for a Dallas-area racetrack may be meaningless.

Word has it that a group headed by R.D. Hubbard -- a man who has drawn considerable praise nationally in heading Hollywood Park's recent resurgence -- has the edge over the Carter group. And, anyway, De Francis said he does not plan to invest significant dollars, or staff currently employed in Maryland, if Carter wins the right to build.

The most revealing aspect of De Francis' announcement may be the hint of what is to come in Maryland. With the buy-out option between De Francis and his Laurel/Pimlico partners -- the Manfuso brothers, Bob and Tom -- looming for October 1993, getting one foot in Texas may be De Francis' way of hedging his bets.

Meanwhile, it safely can be said that the current Laurel/Pimlico management team has enjoyed good timing in handling potential public-relations disasters -- whether by design or not.

De Francis' announcement, which some people might perceive to have negative implications for Maryland racing, was made on a dark day at the track -- and on a day when he and his two closest assistants, Jim Mango and Tim Capps, were out of town.

And last month, when some 40 people were laid off at Laurel/Pimlico, it was done when virtually all of Maryland's racing press was away at the Breeders' Cup.

*

Should a reporter be barred from a racetrack press box because articles critical of management?

The issue surfaces because of what happened last week at Rockingham Park in New Hampshire. T.D. Thornton of The Racing Times has been barred from the press box and relegated to working in the clubhouse as a paying customer, and the track is no longer selling the paper on its grounds.

A short article written by Thornton appeared on the front page of Monday's Racing Times detailing the arrest of Joseph Carney III, son of Rockingham president Joseph Carney Jr., on drug charges. In those same editions, on page 4, Thornton wrote a column lambasting Rockingham's plans to circumvent a simulcasting law next year. "The sport of racing will be reduced to a mockery," he wrote.

Thornton was barred because of the column, not the article on Carney's son, Rockingham general manager Edward Callahan told Racing Times.

In Wednesday's editions, Racing Times editor Steve Crist condemned the move, writing: "The important issue here is the track's disregard for its patrons."

It is within the law for owners to exclude anyone from private property, even without reason. But in its decision to bar a reporter, all Rockingham management has done is bring its problems -- ones that relatively few people cared about beforehand -- to the attention of many people in the industry.

Martin Jacobs, Laurel/Pimlico vice president, said: "As a matter of policy, we have never barred a writer for any negative article -- and there have certainly been many negative articles on us. We hope the press takes a fair and even-handed approach in its reporting on our tracks and on racing."

*

Since neither Fire the Groom nor Kostroma won last Sunday's Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood, Maryland-based Miss Josh is now favored to win the Eclipse Award for female turf runner.

The California vote might well split between Fire the Groom and Flawlessly, the Matriarch winner who is trained by Charlie Whittingham. That should be all the edge Miss Josh needs to win.

A long shot could be Miss Alleged, winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf. If the filly beats the boys again in the Hollywood Turf Cup next Sunday, she could become most deserving of the Eclipse.

*

All of those cameras out and about at Laurel last Tuesday were from CBS News' "48 Hours."

The production team taped extensive footage on a day at the races with Andrew Beyer of The Washington Post. Beyer's occasional betting coups are a focus of a "get rich quick" theme of an upcoming program.

NB The show is tentatively scheduled to be aired early next year.

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